23 Nov 2012

Ship crawling with exotic beetles seized

10:41 pm on 23 November 2012

New Zealand biosecurity officials have discovered an infestation of plague soldier beetles on a vessel arriving at Port Wellington from Australia this week.

The AAL Brisbane was targeted for full inspection upon arrival by the Ministry for Primary Industries after a recent spate of live beetle finds on vessels arriving from Melbourne.

"The vessel underwent a full inspection. It was found to be literally crawling with hundreds of beetles," ministry spokesperson Geoff Gwyn said.

The vessel's operations were halted while the beetles were treated. Biosecurity staff also checked the berth and surrounding area for beetles and port staff have been instructed to keep a look out for the pest.

The ministry is investigating to determine whether there have been any breaches of the Biosecurity Act 1993. If so, charges may be laid.

Plague soldier beetles (Chauliognathus lugubris) may be harmful to native New Zealand insects. They are also a potential carrier of diseases and other pests.

An environmental lobby is calling for Australian authorities to check ships leaving its ports.

Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell says the beetles need to be prevented from hitching a ride on ships crossing the Tasman.

"If there'd been a really strong northerly blowing through Cook Strait when the ship was coming into Wellington ... they might have all been blown onshore," he says.

"If we know there'a problem in Australia - where these ships are coming from - then we should be trying to deal with the problem before they get to New Zealand. When they're actually in port, potentially it's too late".

The Ministry for Primary Industry says it has stepped up its inspections of ships from Australia, but that country's own biosecurity is ultimately focused on protecting its own ports.