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Funding for an ocean-going tugboat feasibility study has been welcomed by councils on both sides of the Cook Strait.

A feasibility study into the benefits of an ocean-going tugboat for central New Zealand waters has been given the green light by Budget 2024. The $600,000 funding for the study comes following Cook Strait ferry breakdowns and the breakdown of a container ship in Wellington Harbour in 2023.

The announcement was welcomed by heads of council’s on both sides of the Strait, who said they were pleased the Government would be assessing if a tugboat could prevent disaster. Greater Wellington chair Daran Ponter said loss of life or oil spills could be avoided.“Major maritime rescue missions could be mounted with a tug designed to salvage large vessels adrift on the open sea,” Ponter said.“With replacements for the Cook Strait ferries not on the horizon, and more service being pressed from the aged ferry fleet, we can no longer rely on luck to stave off disaster.”

And an ocean-going tugboat could have other uses outside of emergencies, Marlborough mayor Nadine Taylor said.“A vessel with the power and range to mount rescue missions in New Zealand waters could be put to good use when not needed in a crisis,” Taylor said.The study would need to scope the “wider utility of ocean-going tugs”, as well as look at their ability to save broken-down ferries, she said.“It’s heartening when maritime safety advice from the two councils who oversee one of the world’s most beautiful, yet treacherous shipping channels is heard.”

Taylor and Ponter had written to the Minister for Transport last year, raising their concerns for both passenger and shipping safety in the sea corridor between Marlborough and Wellington. In January 2023, Interislander ferry, Kaitaki, drifted more than a nautical mile towards the south coast of Wellington in winds gusting over 100kph after losing all engine power. Life vests were handed out to the 800 passengers onboard with an emergency being declared, before engineers managed to restore enough power to get them back into Wellington Harbour.Two tugs were deployed to help Kaitaki, but the Wellington Harbourmaster later questioned whether they would have had enough grunt to tow the ship to safety.A container ship then broke down in the harbour in April that year, causing disruption to other shipping operations in Wellington.

Source : Matthew Hampson , Marlborough Express

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