Marlborough District Council Mayor, Nadine Taylor and Greater Wellington Regional Council Chair, Daran Ponter, have jointly written to Minister of Transport, Michael Wood, to raise their concerns about a perceived lack of support for out-of-port vessels in Cook Strait.
The pair say the letter follows recent ferry breakdowns which have reinforced the issue of both shipping and passenger safety in the vital sea corridor that borders both council areas.
Mayor Taylor said the last of three tugs that were commissioned following the tragic sinking of the Wāhine in 1968 left port in 2014, having been found to be too low-powered for larger ships.
“Similarly, Port Marlborough’s tug is suited to work within Picton Harbour but not Cook Strait,” she said.
The Mayor said a change in focus to the commercial aspects of operating ports following the move from harbour boards to port companies in 1989 also meant safety management outside of port, such as supporting seagoing vessels, was not relevant to CentrePort or Port Marlborough’s tug replacement business cases.
Together the Interislander and Bluebridge ferries carry around one million passengers across Cook Strait each year. More than 250,000 cruise ship passengers also visit each summer, while other shipping – including large bulk carriers between Australia and South America – passes through the Strait or by adjacent coastlines.
“Despite this level of traffic, and the legendary winds and tidal currents, there is neither the legislative requirement nor any physical resource to provide support for vulnerable or disabled shipping,” Mayor Taylor said.
“Daran Ponter and I believe this is an inadequate situation. Cook Strait is a vital part of New Zealand’s national infrastructure, being effectively the marine section of State Highway 1,” she said. “Just as the government oversees safety on the state highways, we agree that it should support safe shipping in one of our busiest marine corridors.”
Mayor Taylor said a meeting with the Minister of Transport would be a welcome opportunity to discuss this matter.
“This is an opportunity for local and central government, ship and port operators to come together and work towards an enduring and sustainable outcome,” she said.