18 Jan 2024

Maritime NZ files charge against KiwiRail following Kaitaki mayday call

7:05 pm on 18 January 2024
The Kaitaki in the Marlborough Sounds.

The Kaitaki in the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Supplied / KiwiRail

Maritime NZ has filed a charge against KiwiRail after its Interislander ferry lost power in the Cook Strait last year.

On 28 January 2023, the Kaitaki was sailing into Wellington Harbour when it lost propulsion with more than 880 people on board - resulting in a mayday call.

The ship regained limited power and made its way to port where its passengers were able to safely leave it and come ashore.

This week Maritime NZ filed one charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act following a near year-long investigation into the incident.

The maximum penalty is a fine of up to $1.5 million.

Maritime NZ director Kirstie Hewlett explained the evidence they had investigated.

"It involved reviewing the operator's organisational information relevant to processes and procedures connected to safety and maintenance management, undertaking interviews and examining the Kaitaki after the incident occurred."

Hewlett said evidence was comprehensively reviewed before the decision was made to prosecute.

She said Maritime NZ cannot make any further comment about the ongoing proceedings due to it being before court.

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said passenger and staff safety will always be their highest priority.

"The safe and reliable operation of the Interislander service is an absolutely non-negotiable requirement for KiwiRail board and management.

"Following the Kaitaki incident, we conducted a full review of all of our asset management practices, using global experts to ensure we are running the Interislander to world's best practice standards."

He said they were pleased that over the recent busy Christmas period the Interislander ferries have operated with 100 percent asset reliability and 91.4 percent on-time performance.

Union backs legal action

Maritime Union national secretary Craig Harrison at Lyttelton Port.

Craig Harrison Photo: RNZ

The Maritime Union is backing Maritime New Zealand's prosecution of Kiwirail over an incident in Cook Strait almost a year ago.

The union's national secretary Craig Harrison said the charge reinforced calls for the government to help replace the ferries.

"They're well into their used by date and their lifespan, most ferries have around a 20- to 25-year lifespan so they're right at the end of their life. So the prosecution is really highlighting that these are really old ageing vessels and they need to be replaced. You can't just keep patching them up," Harrison said.

He said more service failures would happen if new ferries were not purchased.

"It's like an old car, eventually they just won't be able to operate and you'll have more service failure as they take the vessels out of service to maintain them.

"The maintenance will just be going up and up and up as they're getting right at the end of their life."

He was not surprised by Maritime NZ's move and said it was doing the right thing.

"No, Maritime New Zealand's in a space where they're required to uphold the regulations and here they are prosecuting a state owned interprise; actually highlighting the fact that New Zealand needs these ferries replaced and now they're getting prosecuted because they've basically got old ferries that are not fit for purpose," Harrison said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs