A technician is urgently travelling to New Zealand to assess the Interislander’s Kaitaki ferry after a problem was found with one of her gearboxes. The ship is expected to remain out of action for at least two weeks.
Meanwhile, Interislander has disabled Facebook comments on its posts to devote resources to communicating directly with passengers.
Both Interislander and rival operator Bluebridge have been hit with breakdowns and engine problems in recent weeks, disrupting the travel plans of thousands of passengers.
The latest problem, the Kaitaki’s gearbox, was identified less than 24 hours after the ferry began passenger sailings for the first time in five weeks.
It has been doing freight-only sailings since it lost power and issued a mayday call in Cook Strait with 864 people on board.
The Kaitaki resumed passenger sailings on Saturday but that night a fault in a bearing in one of the ferry’s two gearboxes was found when the ship was in port in Wellington.
KiwiRail had said on Friday that several assurance processes were undertaken to confirm ferries in the fleet were safe to sail.
Interislander executive general manager Walter Rushbrook said the problem with the Kaitaki’s gearbox was unexpected and unrelated to the mayday incident.
He said the Kaitaki will remain out of service for at least the next two weeks.
“We acknowledge and apologise for the inconvenience caused to passengers and our freight customers. It’s really disappointing for our crew as we take real pride in the service we deliver.
“We are contacting all the affected passengers and will do all we can to ensure they are re-allocated to other sailings with as little disruption as possible.”
Passengers and freight booked on the Kaitaki yesterday and today have been moved on to other ferry sailings.
Interislander has put on extra sailings of the Kaiarahi and Aratere ferries to help ease pressure on the Cook Strait service.
The Valentine, purchased last year as a freight-only service, will also be running to help free up space for passengers on the other ships.
“The summer peak season has contributed to delays in rebooking people after sailings were cancelled in recent weeks, but we are coming out of the busy period, which should help us accommodate passengers in the weeks ahead,” Rushbrook said.
The cause of the gearbox problem is still under investigation, Rushbrook said.
The gearbox was overhauled and refurbished during dry dock in Sydney in September last year, supervised by the gearbox manufacturer, he said.
Interislander is in contact with the manufacturer in the Netherlands and a technician is urgently travelling to New Zealand to inspect the gearbox, he said.
Comments have also been disabled on Interislander’s Facebook page. The comments section on posts from yesterday and today is empty and reads, “Interislander limited who can comment on this post.”
Rushbrook said they were devoting resources to communicating directly with passengers about booking changes.
“[We] do not regard monitoring and responding to Facebook comments as a priority right now.”
Transport Minister Michael Wood said he has met with KiwiRail’s board to seek assurances they are taking the situation seriously.
He has also requested a plan on how KiwiRail will manage the fleet until two new rail-enabled mega-ferries arrive to replace them.
“I acknowledge how frustrating this situation has been for customers, unfortunately, it is a result of the age of the vessels in the fleet.”
Wood said when Labour came into Government they moved quickly to replace the fleet and work was now underway on the two new ferries in Korea.
“Unfortunately not all governments have been willing to tackle the hard issues, so we have to work with the current fleet until the new vessels begin coming into service from 2025.”
Rushbrook said KiwiRail has confidence in the current fleet’s ability to service the Cook Strait until the new ferries arrive.
He said KiwiRail has not approached the Government for more funding for the current fleet in the meantime.