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Lessons from Wahine sinking make shipping safer

Lessons from Wahine sinking make shipping safer

9 April 2018

As we reflect on the 50th anniversary of New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster in modern times, the sinking of TEV Wahine on 10 April 1968 and the loss of 53 lives, we can see that lessons from that tragedy make shipping safer today.

Maritime NZ Acting Director, Stephanie Winson, said the tragedy in Wellington harbour 50 years ago helped change international maritime safety conventions and standards.

“Ships in New Zealand, including our Cook Strait ferries, coastal traders and the many overseas ships that visit our country are all safer, in part, because of what happened to the Wahine,” Ms Winson said.

“New Zealand is part of a global maritime system where countries learn from and support each other to make shipping safer.

“What happens in one country is shared internationally, can change how ships are designed and operated, and then benefits that country and others.

“Lessons from a maritime disaster like the sinking of the Wahine can go on to save lives around the world.”

Maritime NZ represents New Zealand on the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO is the United Nations agency that coordinates the global maritime industry.

At the IMO Maritime NZ promotes our country’s maritime interests, reports on what has happened here, and brings back to New Zealand what can be learned from other countries and the agreements made at the IMO.

Maritime NZ works with the Ministry of Transport to have those international maritime agreements included in New Zealand law, and is the government agency responsible for bringing about compliance with those laws.

Since 1968, there have been many changes including in how ships are designed and operated, crew training, and how New Zealand is organised to respond to a maritime disaster.

Ship design and construction has changed to make vessels more stable, stronger and able to survive more damage if there is an incident.

Before a ship can sail, its voyage planning must now include specific alternatives for what the ship will do if it cannot continue as expected, for emergencies and what steps to take if something unexpected happens.

An International Safety Management Code guides national maritime laws, including New Zealand’s requirements for rolling audits of operating systems, surveys of ships, and the need for continuous safety management at all times on board.

New technologies provide crews with much more information about the ship, its cargo, other vessels, the weather and other data, much faster.

Planned “bridge resource management” systems have been introduced to manage the multiple streams of information coming onto a ship’s bridge, crew roles, changing priorities, shift changes, and to guide decision making in what can be a quickly changing environment.

Maritime NZ now provides the Rescue Coordination Centre NZ (RCCNZ) and the Maritime Radio Service. RCCNZ coordinates response to all distress beacon alerts and major search and rescue operations in New Zealand’s search and rescue region. The Maritime Radio Service operates the national maritime radio operations centre. Both operate round-the-clock and are located next to each other in Lower Hutt.

In 1968, New Zealand did not have national operations centres to coordinate a maritime response and maritime radio communications.

“We cannot create a ‘zero risk’ maritime industry,” Ms Winson said. “By their nature, the sea and weather are changeable and powerful and will always pose at least some risk to shipping.

“However, what we can do, and are doing, as part of our global maritime system is reduce risk by building better ships, developing better ways of operating ships and managing crews, improving training, and having well-coordinated response when there is an emergency.”


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