Ferry commuters in Auckland have been left fuming over delays while politicians, bureaucrats and ferry operator Fullers argue over who is at fault.
Hundreds of commuters on several ferries found themselves slowly circling the inner harbour this morning. One commuter said they were told over a loudspeaker system the delay was due to a cruise ship.
On top of that, Fullers cancelled three ferry sailings on the Devonport and Waiheke services.
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One Waiheke woman, Chloe Barker, said this morning was the third time this week her ferry has been cancelled due to cruise-ship arrivals.
In an email to Harbourmaster Andrew Hayton she said: "You are affecting the lives of thousands of commuters. We are late for our jobs, hospital appointments, childcare arrangements and other responsibilities because cruise ships are being prioritised over passenger ferries."
In a written statement, Fullers chief executive Mike Horne did not address the specific issues this morning, but pinned the blame for the wider problem on the growing number and frequency of cruise ship visits and significant disruptions to sailings from cruise ships docking and departing from the ferry basin.
Auckland Transport media manager Mark Hannan said "cruise ships did not cause the cancellation of ferry services", saying the decision not to run some services this morning was made by Fullers.
"There are no restrictions on ferries entering or leaving the ferry basin at any time. Ultimately the decision to enter or leave the ferry basin is the call of the master of a vessel," Hannan said.
Auckland councillor Chris Darby, a regular ferry commuter, said he was not convinced the ferry delays were entirely the fault of the cruise industry, the Harbourmaster or Ports of Auckland, which has a schedule months in advance of cruise ship visits on its website.
"I think Fullers are milking this a little bit and not taking responsibility when it suits them," he said.
Darby also wondered if it was a case of Fullers changing its approach to safety after receiving some damning court decisions on safety issues.
Horne said Fullers would not compromise the safety of customers or staff, saying the company restricts ferry movements in and out of the ferry basin while cruise ships are thrusting and the water is still turbulent due to berthing.
"We have seen cruise ships berthing at times outside of their schedule, which is hard to plan for. In addition, cruise ship movements approved to come into the harbour during commuter times will also have a significant impact," Horne said.
Cruise ships are not allowed to enter the ferry basin on weekdays between 7.30am and 9am and 4.30pm and 6pm.
The parties are calling for talks to resolve the issue. On Friday, Darby is meeting with Mayor Phil Goff, the Harbourmaster and Auckland Transport to discuss the problems. Horne said Fullers had been calling for urgent intervention with Auckland authorities.
Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye also wants to meet the parties to clarify what has occurred and the ongoing arrangements.
"Ultimately public transport must take priority over cruise ships," she said.
Waiheke residents have taken to a local Facebook page to vent their anger.
One resident, Kev Applestone, said he had only just managed to make a flight to Gisborne for a clinic at Gisborne Hospital after a "after crazy Uber driver did his magic".
He used the downtime to contact the Harbourmaster to say the delays were causing huge disruption, including to people like himself involved in essential services.
"Arrival of cruise ships during busy commutes seems to be a new thing. It also seems like very poor planning. Why can cruise ships not arrive before 6 or after 9?" Applestone asked.
Tania Anderson said her husband had been waiting in the harbour with five ferries held up, adding "the ferries are dancing on the water".