Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Revealed: Shipping near-misses on our coast

More than 50 close calls in the past year disclosed in Transport Ministry report

As the Awanuia approached Marsden Pt on April 16, a kayaker paddled across the oil tanker's bow. Photo / NZPA
As the Awanuia approached Marsden Pt on April 16, a kayaker paddled across the oil tanker's bow. Photo / NZPA

Collisions, ill-timed power failures, near misses and fires are among more than 50 dodgy incidents involving ships around our coasts over the past year.

The grounding of the 177m-long Singaporean cargo ship Lake Triview on a reef off the coast of New Plymouth in May also features among the cases released to the Green Party by the office of Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee.

The ship's master, Filipino 63-year-old Rolando Valmeo Legaspi, was prosecuted last month for not reporting the five-minute grounding until five days after it happened.

While no oil was leaked, Maritime New Zealand said the incident posed a threat to the ship's 21 crew and could have caused a "serious impact" on the environment.

In other incidents, temporary power failures led a container ship to "possible contact" with sand at the edge of the channel at Port Chalmers in April, and a bulk carrier to lose steering while leaving the Port of Tauranga last July, sending it veering toward the Mount.

Two shackles were dropped from its port anchor, before its engine restarted a few minutes later and it carried on out of the harbour.

And in February, a pilot at the port was unaware divers were working in the water on one docked container ship as another was about to arrive.

The approaching ship was stopped in stream after linesmen alerted the pilot to the divers, who were asked to clear the water.

Last year, the Herald reported 13 serious "near miss" incidents since the 2011 grounding and oil spill of the MV Rena - one of which nearly led to a grounding at the Wellington Harbour entrance after a cadet mistakenly plotted a cargo ship's approach course.

Green Party oceans spokesperson Gareth Hughes said the near-miss incidents highlighted the need for compulsory shipping lanes.

"The Government has downplayed the risk of further accidents like the Rena and hasn't focused on how to make coastal shipping safer," he said.

"With the number of near misses since the Rena, it appears the Government is relying on luck, rather than good regulation, to keep us safe from cargo ship crashes."

In other serious cases reported, a digger working in the hold of a ship caught fire while it was moving fertiliser and a piece of crane block missed a stevedore when it fell into another ship's hold.

Two crewmen had separate near misses - one falling between a ship and the wharf after missing a jump, the other slipping on logs and tumbling into the harbour.

The most recent Maritime New Zealand figures showed the number of accidents on large international vessels had gradually risen from just over 40 in 2009/10 to more than 70 in 2012/13, despite the number of port calls and voyages in our coastal waters remaining relatively stable over the last three years.

However, an MNZ spokesperson said there was no cause for alarm.

"Taking into account improved incident reporting, we have not in general noted any increased deliberate non-compliance with the rules.

"Any increase is more likely to reflect changes in reporting."

In the past financial year, Maritime New Zealand undertook 10 prosecutions, compared with seven, 16 and seven in the respective preceding years.

- NZ Herald

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