The ferry VALENTINE, anchored in Wellington harbour, has suffered a mechanical glitch. 

A new interisland ferry, leased to ease pressure on the country’s strained supply chain, is too slow and can only make one return sailing per day. The Valentine has been further hobbled in the last week by an intermittent glitch with the ship’s bow thrusters.

The ferry began crossing Cook Strait in December carrying only freight. KiwiRail, which operates the ferry service, secured the replacement vessel when gearbox failure crippled the KAIARSCHI. That left only the ARATERE and KAITAKI on the route, which is an extension of State Highway 1 and a vital link in the already snarled supply chain.

Hauliers are frustrated that the replacement ferry can only ply the route once a day because it takes much longer to load. And the upper decks cannot carry trucks.Industries are crisis planning for disruption as the Covid Omicron variant spreads through the community. Supermarket shelves have been running bare overseas, and there are fears consumer goods could be in short supply. The Government estimates there could be as many as 350,000 workers isolating at any one time. There is also an acute shortage of truck drivers.

Now the freight sector is worried about capacity in carrying supplies between the North and South Islands.

The VALENTINE is less powerful than the other ships in the fleet and so takes between 4-4.5 hours to cross the strait, instead of the usual 3.5 hours.The Valentine was leased to maintain the link between the North and South islands while Kaiarahi is out of action. And there are worries that overnight asphalt resurfacing at at Weld Pass, just south of Blenheim will exacerbate delays.Trucks will have to detour via SH7, the Lewis Pass, for five nights in mid-February.

“The supply chain is already under a massive pressure, but it's going to get even worse potentially in the next few weeks. Reduced sailings are going to impact that,” Nick Leggett, chief executive of Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand, said.  ”This is a lifeline. It’s food, but it’s also things like oxygen for hospitals and medicine. You can’t afford to have it severed at a point in a national health crisis."

Leggett said operators are struggling with delays and booking, and found Interislander “very difficult” to deal with.Drivers have complained about losing an entire day waiting for sailings. One operator dropped a trailer full of frozen food in Picton recently at 11.30am and was told it wouldn’t be unloaded in Wellington until 5am the next day, Leggett said.

Walter Rushbrook, Interislander’s executive general manager, said the Valentine had not been operating as scheduled in the last week because of the fault. A spare part was sourced from overseas and flown to New Zealand “as quickly as possible”.  “The nature of the fault made it difficult to trace, but it has now been identified,” he said. “Once the part is fitted the ship will return to service, and we hope to have Valentine back in operation next week.”Rushbrook said the company is “conscious of the vital role the Interislander ferries play in New Zealand’s supply chain.” In order to maintain freight volumes Aratere and Kaitaki have been making extra sailings, he said. Only one ship can berth at a time in Picton’s port.

“VALENTINE has a larger freight capacity than our current ships, so we have the option of undertaking either two return trips with smaller loads or one return trip per day with a very large load, which, of course, means longer loading and unloading times,” he said. Rushbrook said the VALENTINE carries mainly trucks. “Trucks are not carried on the upper two decks. This is because of the height clearances on those decks, not because of any stability issues.” The upper decks are used to carry “loose cars” being transported to car saleyards.

Source : Stuff