A fisherman who helped rescue an inflatable boat and its four young passengers after they were nearly run over by a cruise ship in Tauranga Harbour says the boat had run out of fuel.

The 122,000-tonne Celebrity Solstice had to alter its course at the last minute to avoid running over the inflatable, apparently unable to move out of the ship's path.

Bay of Plenty harbourmaster Peter Buell estimated the 317.2m ship came within a few metres of hitting the 3.5m to 4m-long inflatable.

It was one of the closest calls he had seen in five years as harbourmaster, and he said it would have given the four passengers "the fright of their life".

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"Thankfully, there was enough room for the ship to make a small alteration to its course ... and avoid running it over. It could have been much worse."

Video of the incident, time-stamped to the evening of December 14, was posted to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's Facebook page yesterday as a reminder to recreational boaties of rules requiring them to stay clear of ships coming in and out of the Port of Tauranga.

The cruise ship bears down on the incapacitated inflatable, narrowly missing it to pass alongside.

The cruise ship bears down on the incapacitated inflatable, narrowly missing it to pass alongside. Photo / Aaron Randell
The cruise ship bears down on the incapacitated inflatable, narrowly missing it to pass alongside. Photo / Aaron Randell
Passengers on the cruise ship gathered to watch the close call. Photo / Aaron Randell
Passengers on the cruise ship gathered to watch the close call. Photo / Aaron Randell
"There was definitely a look of fear on their faces," said a rescuer. Photo / Aaron Randell
The cruise ship narrowly missed the boat before they were picked up by rescuers. Photo / Aaron Randell
The cruise ship narrowly missed the boat before they were picked up by rescuers. Photo / Aaron Randell

Two other boats zoom in to help, and one tows the inflatable out of harm's way.

A Mount Maunganui man, who would not be named, said he was coming back from a day's fishing with workmates when they spotted the inflatable in trouble and went to investigate.

He said the cruise ship missed the inflatable - manned by two young women and two young men aged roughly 18 to 22 - by only two or three metres.

"It was incredibly close."

As cruise ship passengers peered over the side, his crew threw a rope to the inflatable and they towed it to shore in Pilot Bay.

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"The boy was pretty shaken up and embarrassed and the girls were pretty freaked. One girl said to me, 'We could have died, eh?'

"There was definitely a look of fear on their faces."

He believed the boat had run out of fuel and lost an oar. He could not see any lifejackets.

The fisherman said he was not a hero, just "in the right place at the right time".

"That is just what you do when you are out on the water. If you see someone in distress, you go to their aid, no questions asked."

Coastguard manager Dane Robertson said the organisation was not called to the incident, and encouraged boaties to always have a radio.

Buell said his office, the Port of Tauranga and Maritime New Zealand had prepared reports on the incident, but understood no one from the inflatable had been spoken to.

Monitor Channel One for Coastguard's 15 minute warnings of shipping movement. A ship could sneak up on you before you see it and then it's too late!

Posted by Bay of Plenty Regional Council on Friday, 28 December 2018

Collision investigation closes, both boats fined

Harbourmaster Peter Buell said the only incident he had seen that was a closer call than this near miss was when a motorboat collided with a sailing boat at anchor in the harbour on the night of March 16, 2018.

Buell said $600 in total fines were levied against skippers of both vessels following investigations by the police and his office.

The sailing boat was fined $200 for being at anchor at night no lights on, while the motorboat received two $200 fines for speeding and being on the wrong side of the channel.

Rules and tips for boating near ships in Tauranga

• Boats must keep clear of big ships

• Minimum side clearance is 50m

• Minimum clearance in front of a ship is 500m

• If fishing in the shipping channel, move before ships come through

• Check the shipping schedule on the Port of Tauranga website and note when ship movements are due

• If you have to move, give yourself plenty of time in case of equipment failure

• Monitor marine radio channel 1 for 15-minute Coastguard warnings of shipping movements

• Check your equipment before setting out and have a back-up, eg oars

• Instead of anchoring in the channel, anchor just outside of it and cast in.

Source: Peter Buell, harbourmaster, Bay of Plenty Regional Council