The ferry services across the Cook Strait are some of Aotearoa’s most vital transport links.
They also tend to be particularly prone to failure, as illustrated by a series of recent problems that have included failing ships and mayday calls.
NZ Herald Wellington-based senior reporter Georgina Campbell has reported on the myriad problems over the last 12 months and tells The Front Page podcast that the importance of this transport link should not be underestimated.
“The Interislander ferry operates around 3,800 ferry services a year, transporting about 850,000 passengers, 250,000 cars and billions of dollars worth of freight,” says Campbell.
There are two ferry services operating across this route - the Interislander and Bluebridge.
Bluebridge currently has two vessels in its fleet and the Interislander has four after it purchased The Valentine for freight amid ongoing problems.
“Essentially, the Interislander’s problem is that its ferries are reaching the end of their 30-year working lives and need to be replaced,” says Campbell.
“Because this fleet of three ferries is ageing, it means they’re more prone to unexpected breakdowns and the systems onboard are becoming obsolete. Notable incidents in recent years include the gearbox of the Kaiarahi being catastrophically damaged, resulting in the ship being out of action for more than a year.”
A recent incident that attracted headlines occurred when the Kaitaki declared a mayday with 864 people on board while it was in the Cook Strait.
“Between those incidents, there have been several other mechanical problems and little breakdowns that have caused smaller delays, but they’re still disruptive when passengers and freight are relying on those connections,” says Campbell.
While Bluebridge has had a better recent run, that company hasn’t been able to evade mishaps altogether either.
“Just a few weeks after the Connemara joined its fleet, it ran into trouble when it had some problems with its engine,” says Campbell.
“It was very unfortunate that this happened with the new ferry coming in to join the fleet, and it just adds pressure on an already-troubled Cook Strait service, considering what’s happening with the Interislander.”
So what’s being done to address these issues? Are our politicians offering any viable solutions? Do we have longer-term plans to make this key transport route more secure? And could new infrastructure perhaps offer an alternative?
Listen to today’s episode of The Front Page for the full story. And be sure to dig into the Herald’s new series, Dire Strait, which attempts to shed light on the many issues affecting this transport route.