AN INTENSIFIED maintenance program for Interisland Line’s trouble-plagued Cook Strait ferries will see at all three out of service for protracted periods over coming months.

The only rail-capable vessel, Aratere, will lay-by in Wellington for work from 11 to 23 May. Kaiarahi will undergo a ‘wet dock’ at the Waitohi West berth in Picton from 4 June until 6 July. And Kaitaki will have a much longer absence, due to the need for a comprehensive drydocking in Singapore, which involves a 14-dayvoyage up and 14 days back. This means Kaitaki will be out of service from 29 July to 6 October.

All three aging vessels have suffered myriad problems over the last 12 months or more but had to be kept in service pending delivery of two 53,300 GT rail/ro-ro/pax replacements in 20205 and 2026. However, the incoming NZ National Party government last December axed the iReX program after expected costs blew out to close to NZ$3 billion, mostly attributable to landside infrastructure.

KiwiRail didn’t move to terminate its NZ$551 million contract with Hyundai Mipo Dockyard for the new ferries until mid-February, when it received a directive letter from finance minister Nicola Wills, two months after she announced the cancellation of the project.

According to an overseas report a Korean stock exchange notice described the cancellation fee as amounting to 11.22% of the contract price. However, DCN has now been advised by KiwiRail the 11.22% is the cancelled contract value as a percentage of HMD’s total sales for the fiscal year. It has nothing to do with contract cancellation fees/costs.

KiwiRail CFO Jason Dale told DCN discussions are continuing with HMD to exit the ship building contract, and those discussions include all aspects of the contract including termination fees and agreements with suppliers. The details of those discussions are ‘commercial in confidence’.

In March KiwiRail announced it was adding more weekly and monthly maintenance checks, and booking more time in drydock for deep maintenance, following assessments by classification society DNV, which is also advising on possible life-extension work.

“DNV has undertaken assessments of all three ships’ asset condition, and our enterprise approach to asset management systems, processes and capability and its recommendations are now being actioned across the fleet,” KiwiRail said.

The government-appointed but independent Ministerial Advisory Group is likely to hand up its recommendations for ‘affordable’ replacement ferries by the end of this month.

DCN understands all remaining employees of the iReX project were made redundant on 29 March.

This story has been updated to include corrected information from KiwiRail.