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Welington Harbour And Fast Ferry Safety



An investigation into the Topcat ferry's double take at the entry to Wellington harbour on January 4 has raised a number of safety issues about the harbour entrance in specific conditions, said the Director of Maritime Safety.

The Authority today released the report of its investigation into the high profile event which caused significant media interest following comments by passengers.

The MSA's report says that on Tuesday 4 January the Topcat was not handling to its master's satisfaction on approach to the Wellington Harbour entrance. The southerly wind, gusting to 40 knots, the opposing ebb tide and the shallower water at the harbour entrance combined to produce conditions that tested the ferry's manoeuverability.

The vessel's master abandoned his first approach and made a second, successful approach.

A small number of the 580 passengers contacted the MSA and questioned whether it was safe for the vessel to have been operating, but most comments were about the lack of information regarding the manoeuver. They had not been informed by the master that he had aborted his first attempt and would be making another approach.

The MSA found that the significant wave height* forecast by the Metservice when Topcat sailed from Picton was 4.5 metres.

"The significant wave height was forecast to be above the ferry's operating limit of four metres. However several other indicators, including the master's observations during previous trips on the same day, indicated that this was likely to be an over estimation," said the Director of Maritime Safety Russell Kilvington.

"In the circumstances we are inclined on this occasion to give the company and the master benefit of doubt. However, we have made it clear to both fast ferry operators that particular prudence and caution is required when information from any credible source indicates that wave height is at or above the limits stated on the vessel's permit to operate."

Mr Kilvington said this particular incident raised two more fundamental issues.

"The first is the hazardous nature of the Wellington harbour entrance when vessels are entering and departing, particularly in conditions of rough seas, conflicting winds and currents.

"The second is the ability of fast ferries, which have significant wave height restrictions, to obtain accurate information about wave height."

"As a consequence of this incident and the issues that it has raised the MSA has convened a working group with Topcat Ferries, the Interisland line, Wellington Harbourmaster, the Metservice and NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) who provide water and wave information, to sort out some solutions. We want competing ferry companies to collaborate on matters of safety, and they appear willing to do so.

"I would like to thank all members of the public who approached us or responded to our requests for more information."

Specifically, the MSA's investigation report recommended that;

* Ferry masters get together regularly to exchange information

on experiences crossing Cook Strait.

* Ways of obtaining more accurate significant wave height*

information be sought.

* Passengers should be kept informed of the reasons for any

unusual alterations of course or speed.

* Exactly who is to establish significant wave height be



* Significant wave height is the average height of the highest 33% of waves

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