SEVENTEEN days after running aground while leaving the NZ South Island port of Picton, Interisland Line’s rail/ro-pax Aratere is resuming Cook Strait service after Maritime New Zealand yesterday [10 July] lifted its detention order.

While speculation, informed by leaks of KiwiRail internal documents highlighted by the NZ First party, continues to swirl over the cause of the grounding MNZ said it had given conditional approval for Aratere to return to service.

Maritime NZ director Kirstie Hewlett said over the past two-and-a-half weeks MNZ had been seeking information on the 21 June grounding from KiwiRail and its Class society, and undertaking an inspection.

“Earlier this week, we inspected the vessel, and observed it undertake several tests while at berth involving systems, processes and equipment. Off the back of these tests we have now lifted the detention notice, but imposed conditions on the operation of the vessel,” Ms Hewlett said.

“These conditions allow Aratere to return to service through a graduated and controlled approach that enables further assurance by KiwiRail, any corrective and preventative measures are implemented, and the vessel is operating safely.”

Initially, the conditions will allow crew and rail freight only (four return sailings), then trucks and their drivers, followed by a limited passenger service, and then full capacity sailings to be permitted. The full return to service is subject to KiwiRail demonstrating it has implemented its return to service plan, and no further issues have been identified.

The harbourmasters in Wellington and Marlborough have also placed conditions around pilotage for Aratere’s exit and entry of the two harbours.

In the coming weeks, MNZ inspectors will also undertake a focused audit on the Interislander fleet. This will look at its processes, procedures, training, risk management as well as looking at how it brings on new equipment and familiarises its personnel,” the authority said.

“Maritime NZ’s inspections and audits are a reflection of a point in time, and the operator, KiwiRail has the primary responsibility for day to day safe operation of the vessel, and its wider fleet,” Ms Hewlett said.

MNZ noted that the investigation into the cause of the grounding is separate from the detention notice and audit and is focusing on exploring the broad range of factors that caused the vessel to ground and will take several months: “However, while the cause of the grounding is yet to be formally determined, MNZ’s preliminary enquiries have found that the incident was not due to a crew member leaving the bridge to make a coffee.”

In a customer advisory Interisland welcomed MNZ’s decision to lift the detention notice and said it was aiming to sail Aratere from Picton to Wellington today (Thursday).

“We will then go through a graduated process as it returns to service. 

“Thank you for your patience and understanding as we worked through this process. We will be in touch with affected customers and passengers directly,” Interisland Line said.