NEW Zealand’s Port Marlborough has decided to limit the size of ships using the Tory Channel to access the ports of Picton and Shakespeare Bay.

Marlborough harbourmaster Jake Oliver has determined only vessels at or under 187 metres in length will be permitted to use the channel, the entrance to which is narrow and tidal. The direction follows a navigation safety risk assessment which reviewed past vessel crossings, vessel risk management documents and relevant Transport Accident Investigation Commission reports.

“We know from our review that vessels at and under 187 metres can travel through the channel safely. The only time these vessels wouldn’t use the channel is if they have an issue while crossing the Cook Strait, such as a malfunction of navigation equipment, steering system or propulsion engines – anything that could mean their journey through the channel is dangerous – making the Northern Entrance route the safer option,” Capt Oliver told local media.

“This direction is about preparing for the future, for when companies look to invest in new vessels.

“It means that companies with vessels over this length will use the Northern Entrance to dock at Picton or Shakespeare Bay, just like some heavy vessels are required to now, or work with us on safety management plans for using Tory Channel.”

The direction is seen as somewhat ironic, given that the now-cancelled replacement Interislander ferries – destined for the Cook Strait route between Wellington and Picton – would have been 220 metres in length and would thus have been forced to use the Northern Entrance for every crossing, adding around 30 minute to the transit. All current Cook Strait ferries are under 187 metres.