27 Dec 2019

Urine soaks family on Interislander ferry to Picton

8:25 pm on 27 December 2019

By Ellen Curnow for Westport News

A trip home to Westport for Christmas delivered a nasty surprise for Sean Scanlon and his family when their car was doused in urine on the Interislander ferry.

A close up of the Interislander ferry that returned to Wellington port due to a security threat.

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Human urine from the boat's toilet system sprayed the car inside and out after a worker had an accident as the ferry disembarked.

Interislander, owned by KiwiRail, did not respond to the family's calls about the incident.

Sean and Lucy Scanlon, their eight-year-old son Jack, and dog Cooper caught the 9am ferry from Wellington to Picton on Monday.

When the boat docked they returned to the vehicle deck, collected the dog from the kennels and went to wait in the car. It was stuffy, and they wound down the windows, Mr Scanlon said.

They were in the car for about 15 minutes. Two workers were busy with some drums and pipes nearby when something went wrong with the pipes, he said.

"There was a shower of liquid and an immediate odour."

Human urine splattered over the driver's side of their car. Some sprayed through the open windows, hitting Scanlon and his son and running down the inside of the doors.

"It was a wee mistake," Scanlon joked. "They were fiddling around with these blue drums, then we got a golden shower."

But he could also see the serious side of the incident. Aside from his family's shock and discomfort, he was worried for the two splattered workers.

He said that when he got out of the car, a worker was standing nearby, "in white overalls looking absolutely horrified, totally drenched in pee".

The workers didn't seem to have any masks or other safety gear.

The drenched worker left to clean up and the other worker ran around trying to fix the problem.

Scanlon found an old towel and wiped down the outside of the car as best he could. The family used wet wipes, tried to remove the urine from the inside of the car and themselves, and helped Jack change his clothes.

One of the workers returned and tried to help wash the outside of the car but the liquid was sticky and hard to remove, Scanlon said.

Meanwhile, cars were driving off the ferry and the Scanlons had to disembark too.

"As we drove off you could see it (urine) was just all over the floor."

Lucy Scanlon rang the Interislander call centre and left a message for someone to call her back. She received no response.

The family drove to Blenheim "it was 25 minutes with that stink in the car" to use a car wash and buy antiseptic spray to clean the car interior.

They then drove three hours to Westport and gave the car a proper clean when they arrived.

Lucy tried to contact Interislander again on Tuesday. The call centre assured her someone would call by 5pm that day. No one did.

Sean said there appeared to be no health and safety process for the ferry workers, and wanted to know whether systems would be reviewed to prevent future incidents.

"As a worker, it would be a pretty miserable thing to happen," he said. "It's also not a very good look to be spraying passenger cars with human pee.

"It would be good to know they had a process where they don't park people's car next to things that can go wrong."

He said he understood Christmas was a busy time of year but thought someone should address what had happened to his family and the workers.

Westport News contacted KiwiRail for comment. In a statement, Interislander executive general manager Walter Rushbrook said it was an "unfortunate incident".

"We have been in contact with the family to apologise for their experience and provide an explanation. Additionally, we have arranged compensation for situation," he said.

"Interisander staff were working to clear a blockage in the sewage system which turned out to be caused by a pair of underpants flushed down an onboard toilet. The ferry's toilets are a vacuum pressure system, and we have signage to advise that only the toilet paper supplied can be flushed down.

"We only have a relatively short amount of time between sailings to load and unload the ships plus attend to urgent maintenance issues, which is why we were trying to the trace the blockage issue at the time the ship was discharging vehicles.

"Toilets get blocked from time to time and our staff are used to managing them. Our maintenance staff wear standard protective gear and have preventative immunisation shots. As with all incidents that occur we will review our processes and procedures."

"We are investigating why the calls were not escalated."

- This story first appeared on Westport News