Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Vessels dice with disaster

Large ship incidents risk new Rena-style catastrophes in New Zealand coastal waters.
The container ship Rena struck a reef 12 nautical miles off the coast of Tauranga in 2011. Photo / Alan Gibson
The container ship Rena struck a reef 12 nautical miles off the coast of Tauranga in 2011. Photo / Alan Gibson

Acruise liner that sailed perilously close to rocks in the Marlborough Sounds last week provided the latest of more than 40 reported incidents involving large ships since the Rena disaster five years ago.

The 180m-long Azamara Quest, with more than 1000 people on board, reportedly came close to the rocks as it entered the Tory Channel, and the incident is being investigated by Maritime New Zealand.

The 180m-long Azamara Quest, with more than 1000 people on board, reportedly came close to the rocks as it entered the Tory Channel. Photo / Supplied
The 180m-long Azamara Quest, with more than 1000 people on board, reportedly came close to the rocks as it entered the Tory Channel. Photo / Supplied

But it wasn't the most serious, with a list of "near misses" released to the Herald under the Official Information Act by Maritime NZ detailing some cases of large vessels urgently having to take evasive action.

Maritime NZ is due to release a sweeping review of coastal navigation safety in New Zealand, following repeated calls for compulsory shipping lanes. However, most incidents happened in harbours and a shipping industry group argues such measures aren't needed with the low level of shipping around our coast.

The Maritime NZ information shows serious coastal incidents have continued since the MV Rena ran aground off the Tauranga coast in October 2011 and caused the country's worst maritime environmental disaster.

Cases in the past year included two ships coming so close to colliding in the Bay of Plenty that a mayday message was broadcast, a similar near miss in Marlborough five months later, and three instances of large ships breaching the Poor Knights Exclusion Zone.

One of the most serious was in August 2012, when the cargo ship AAL Brisbane was headed for Pencarrow Rock in the Wellington Harbour before the pilot came aboard and corrected the course, which had been plotted by a cadet.

The Interislander ferry Kaitaki in Cook Strait. 28 February 2013. Photo / Mark MItchell
The Interislander ferry Kaitaki in Cook Strait. 28 February 2013. Photo / Mark MItchell

The Interislander ferry Kaitaki was involved in six near misses, including two cases where other large vessels - one of them an LPG carrier - failed to give way.

Green MP Eugenie Sage said she was alarmed over the incidents. "If the number and seriousness of near misses is increasing in high traffic areas, Maritime NZ should consult port companies, the industry, recreational users and the public on measures to reduce the risk - including the suitability of compulsory shipping lanes as a potential option in selected ports."

Calls for government-enforced shipping routes have previously been made by the Maritime Union, maritime experts and, most recently, Bay of Plenty iwi affected by the Rena oil spill.

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss declined to comment on potential measures, but said they would be addressed in Maritime NZ's Coastal Navigation Safety Review, which will draw on 90 reports and interviews with 120 experts.

The review is expected to made public later this month, following private briefings.

The New Zealand Shipping Federation does not see a case for compulsory routes.

"There are enough rules in place to ensure that you have safety at sea without those lanes," executive director Annabel Young said.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 03 Dec 2016 17:10:44 Processing Time: 616ms