Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

36 passengers rescued from charter vessel

The coastguard assist people back to Westhaven after the Dolphin charter boat they were on started to sink in the Waitamata Harbour. Photo / Dean Purcell.
The coastguard assist people back to Westhaven after the Dolphin charter boat they were on started to sink in the Waitamata Harbour. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Passengers on a dolphin-watching cruise remained calm as they waited to be rescued from a charter vessel that started taking on water north of Auckland this afternoon.

Four crew and 36 passengers - including some children - were on board the MV Dream Weaver when it started taking on water in Tiri Channel near Whangaparaoa.

The Coastguard was notified about 1.48pm and responded with several vessels.

The police launch Deodar then took the rescued passengers to Westhaven Marina, where ambulances awaited their arrival this afternoon.

Police said there were no reported injuries but some passengers were suffering from sea sickness.

Passenger Maureen Kelly said there was not widespread panic on board but "there were a few anxious people".

"We didn't really know what was happening. It was a bit scary, really. They didn't really tell us what was going on, just to get the lifejackets on."

She was on the dolphin-watching trip with members of her family. Most people remained calm, she said, including children on the boat.

"The kids were alright. I don't think they realised how serious it was, or could have been."

Another passenger on the boat said the port side had started to sink as it took on water.

The left-front of the boat was close to water-level, he said. The crew advised everyone to head to the highest point - the rear-right - of the boat, until they were rescued.

Three Coastguard boats and a nearby yacht helped remove passengers from the boat, before the police boat arrived and collected everyone together and returned them to shore, he said.

Inspector Ian Booker of police northern communications said it was not known why the vessel had started taking on water.

"It didn't hit anything, as far as we know, but it was just taking on water, so the people were offloaded as a precaution."

Mr Booker said the vessel was an 18m power catamaran with a capacity of 60 people. However, the vessel was "nowhere near capacity" at the time of the incident.

Coastguard spokeswoman Georgie Smith said three Coastguard vessels had responded to the Dream Weaver's distress signal and assisted the vessel back to Gulf Harbour Marina, where it would be "fully assessed".

Four crew had remained on the Dream Weaver, she said.

"They've done a wonderful job, and obviously the passengers have experienced a different afternoon, but they've done a great job in pulling it all together in what is a difficult circumstance."

Maritime New Zealand, which is responsible for investigating incidents on charter vessels, has been advised of the incident.

The rescue was followed by an electrical fire on board the vessel.

Fire Service northern communications spokesman Jaron Phillips said firefighters were called to the vessel at the Gulf Harbour Marina about 3.15pm.

"The fire is out, but crews there confirmed that it suffered an electrical fire in the engine area."

The cause of the fire was unknown, but police said the Fire Service's call-out took place long after the passengers had been removed and when the vessel was safely moored.

The MV Dream Weaver website describes the vessel as a "state-of-the art, purpose-built luxury charter catamaran".

It said the double-decker vessel was available for harbour cruises, corporate functions, weddings, dolphin tours, and other social events.

"The layout of the vessel is designed to provide the maximum on-the-water viewing experience without compromising comfort and safety and is superbly equipped for company meetings, multimedia presentations, networking or private occasion entertaining," the website said.

Staff from the Dream Weaver did not immediately respond to a message requesting comment.

- APNZ

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