Wellington Harbour search for man believed overboard on ferry

10:13 am on 24 May 2024
A search is underway in Wellington Harbour for a passenger who appears to have fallen overboard.

It was a foggy morning in Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Charlotte Cook

A search is under way for a man who is believed to have fallen overboard from a ferry in the Wellington Harbour.

The missing person is a Pākehā man in his 40s, police say. They are urgently seeking information to help identifying him.

Deputy harbourmaster Patrick Atwood said he was told the sole passenger on the first East by West ferry crossing from Queens Wharf to Days Bay on Friday morning was no longer on board when the vessel reached the dock.

Atwood told Morning Report the odds were not in favour of the missing man.

A search is underway in Wellington Harbour for a passenger who appears to have fallen overboard.

A dinghy seen heading out into the Wellington Harbour. Photo: RNZ / Charlotte Cook

It was a cold morning in Wellington and "when they noticed the person was missing, it was still dark", he said.

He said the police maritime unit, Coastguard and a number of other vessels were searching the harbour.

"Everything that was available was thrown at it. I've been told it was around a dozen vessels that took part plus helicopters - a substantial effort was made to try and locate this person.

He could not say where in the harbour the person could have gone missing.

East by West ferries from the city to Days Bay have been cancelled on Friday morning due to the search.

Wellington woman Rebecca Sim who was trying to catch the ferry said it was about to dock before its warning lights suddenly came on and it sped away.

An East by West ferry returns to dock after a search for a man who went overboard in the Wellington Harbour.

An East by West ferry returns to dock after a round of searching. Photo: RNZ / Charlotte Cook

She and others waiting for the ferry saw it doing circles out on the harbour. Sim she caught a bus to work instead.

East by West Ferry says the search is from the middle of the harbour to Days Bay and is wide.

The ferry company said it needed to complete the search before determining what had happened.

Maritime New Zealand data shows two people have fallen off passenger ferries in Wellington in recent years. This does not include the larger Cook Strait ferries, which are classified as 'roll on, roll off ships'.

Its accident, incident and mishap notification summary shows both people fell off a ferry in 2020 at Days Bay Wharf.

A passenger went overboard after slipping on the bottom stair inside the main cabin. And a deckhand fell into the water, before swimming under the wharf and climbed up the ladder. It is not clear what caused them to fall into the water.

There have also been seven injuries recorded since 2019 - mostly as a result of slips and trips.

RNZ has approached East by West Ferries for comment.