COLUMN | Clifford Bay ferry move a “big call” – NZ PM [Ferry Tales]

New Zealand's government is investigating the feasibility and economic impact of shifting the South Island interisland ferry port from Picton to Clifford Bay.

During a recent visit to Blenheim, Prime Minister John Key described the proposal as a "big call".  He told a Chamber of Commerce meeting of about 250 people that former transport minister Steven Joyce was of the view that the government should take a look at it and make a decision either way.

Moving the port from Picton to Clifford Bay has been a possibility for decades. Proponents say it would reduce road travel time to Christchurch and reduce fuel use even more, as it eliminates the hilly part of the journey at Seddon. Opponents say the site is too exposed to be useful and there would be environmental risks. Picton businesses have also expressed concern about what impact the move would have on them.

The transport ministry is expected to report the findings of the NZ$650,000 study by the end of March.

"I haven't seen the report. I have heard the arguments that say restrictions over time mean that Interislander can't make the number of trips it needs to do. The counter argument to that is there is a huge amount invested in the current port,"

Key: "It's a big call, a pretty big call. But let's have a look … It's worth having a discussion."

KiwiRail's Interislander would be a potential cornerstone operator in the new port if a private sector party developed it, Interislander general manager Thomas Davis says. Interislander would be interested to see the outcome of the study and, as a potential cornerstone operator, to discuss Clifford Bay's future.

"There are some realities we can't avoid. Over time, we will need to replace existing ships and that will require investment in new port infrastructure at Picton," added Davis. "Just as importantly, future ships will need to travel at slower ship speeds through Tory Channel to reduce the impact of wake on the shoreline. The result would be that Interislander would only be able to complete four return trips a day compared with the six we currently achieve. That would have an obvious impact on the economics of our business."

Davis says operating from a Clifford Bay facility would provide the opportunity for six trips a day as well as the road and rail cost savings that can be achieved from shorter sailing times and the reduced distance to travel to Christchurch.

The CEO of coastal operator Pacifica, Steve Chapman, disagrees with the proposal and says that spending $650,000 was "a blatant waste of taxpayers' money". Chapman said far more productive ways could be found to improve the efficiency of inter-island freight movements than to revisit the proposed Clifford Bay link. He believes economic efficiency and supply chain productivity would not be improved by duplicating transport infrastructure such as ports, cranes, storage and freight handling equipment.

"Taxpayers' money frittered away on greenfield studies for a new ferry terminal would be better spent on facilitating investment in New Zealand's coastal shipping capabilities," said Chapman. "If the government wants to get serious about reducing freight transport costs, protecting the environment and lifting economic performance, it should redirect its attention to facilitating coastal shipping capacity."

Pacifica is the only coastal shipping firm left in New Zealand, and operates two container-capable ships which travel between Auckland, Tauranga, Lyttleton, Nelson, New Plymouth and Onehunga ports.

Stena Line incident

A Stena Line Irish Sea ferry on passage from Birkenhead last week collided with a cargo ship off the coast of Belfast.

The Stena Feronia was arriving into Belfast Lough from Merseyside when she hit the coaster Union Moon close to the Fairway buoy near Bangor shortly after 7.45pm (local time) on March 7. There were no injuries onboard, but passengers were told to don lifejackets and prepare for an emergency evacuation.  The ferry, with 51 passengers and 47 crew onboard, was able to berth at the Stena terminal under her own power.

The Stena Feronia is a relief vessel operating on the service while the regular ships Stena Mersey and Stena Lagan are refitted.

After a mid-channel inspection the local coastguard accompanied the Union Moon back to Belfast. The ship's master was later arrested by police. The 55-year-old man has been charged with excess alcohol by the master of a ship. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said both captains had been breathalysed.

Equasis data base shows that the 1,543DWT, 1985-built Union Moon flies the Cook Island flag, is classified by a non-IACS classification body and has had an 11.1 percent detention rate in inspections carried out in the last 36 months. It is managed by Continental Ship Management of Karmsund, Norway, and the registered owner is Norswede Shipping, which gives its address as in care of Continental Ship Management.

PNG's ferry woes continue

The safety record of Papua New Guinea's ferry services continues its downward spiral with news of another incident involving the Rabaul Shipping Company, owners of the Rabaul Queen, which went down on February 2. The ill-fated vessel's sister, the Kimbe Queen, was on passage from Lae to Rabaul with 30 passengers on board when she ran aground on a reef in Bialla waters, off West New Britain on the morning of February 22.

The ship sailed out of Lae without the knowledge of the National Maritime Safety Authority and the National Disaster authorities. Her owners had been under pressure to suspend its operations until investigations into the Rabaul Queen disaster, where more than 200 passengers are still unaccounted for, are complete. Thankfully all passengers were safely evacuated from the Kimbe Queen with the assistance of boats provided by the Hargy Oil Palm Company. The vessel was refloated later in the day on the high tide and proceeded to berth at Bialla wharf.

The managing director of Rabaul Shipping Company flew into the Bialla township by helicopter and was escorted under heavy police presence to board the ship.
 Disaster officers in Kimbe expressed extreme frustrations at the management of the shipping company, which they claimed was making a mockery out of the survivors, missing people and relatives of those who perished in the Rabaul Queen tragedy.

Rabaul Shipping has had some difficulties in the past with their ships. One of its ships caught fire in port in 2006 and another sank, though with no loss of life.  PNG's government has promised an investigation to determine the cause of the latest sinking.

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