Cook Strait travel is under pressure, with just one of three Interislander ferries operating following the grounding of the Aratere.

The Aratere will sail again only when Maritime New Zealand gives clearance.

“There will be some disruption for sure,” Interislander Executive General Manager Duncan Roy said.

The Kaiarahi was undergoing maintenance in Picton until July 6, a Kiwirail spokesperson told 1News.

“We’ve just completed 18,000 hours of maintenance work on it,” Roy said. “We’ve got another 18,000 hours to go… and then we’ll look to bring it back in our controlled system with an escalated approach to making sure she’s operational.

“All the maintenance regime for the next year is planned down to the date.”

Spokesperson Victor Billot said money is currently being put towards maintaining boats that are “on their way out”.

The operating Kaitaki was also scheduled for maintenance in Singapore from July 29 until October 7.

A KiwiRail spokesperson said dry-docking for maintenance was a mandatory part of the maintenance programme.

This weekend, 760 affected passengers were moved onto Kaitaki sailings. The ferry has a full schedule for sailing next week.

“It’s a very unusual and extraordinary circumstance when you’ve got just one ferry now for the Interislander actually in service and trying to carry the whole load which is not ideal,” Maritime Union of New Zealand’s Victor Billot said.

The private Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries service has two vessels, which were being used to help carry Interislander passengers and freight where there was capacity, a spokesperson said.

In a statement, Mainfreight director Don Braid said the current loss of the Aratere would slow freight movements.

“We feel very comfortable with the extra capacity we have arranged via Bluebridge and the extra sailings that KiwiRail have run…,” he stated.

Ministers have been handed a report laying out options for the specifications of the new ferries and when they could arrive.

Billot said Bluebridge would pick up some of the freight but it was a “patch up job” when new ferries were required.

“We’re dealing with ferries that obviously are having multiple problems and ongoing problems and it’s going to take, at best, years and years and years to get that situation resolved,” he said.

“The frustrating thing is there was a solution there and they could have had those new ferries there in a couple of years.” he said, referring to the Inter-Island Resillient Connection Project, which would have brought two new rail-enabled ferries in 2025 and 2026, as well as upgraded terminals with space for the larger ships.

The project was partly funded by the previous Government but was axed by the coalition Government in December last year after a request was made for an additional $1.47 million to cover rising costs.

At the time, Finance Minister Nicola Willis said in a press release the majority of the cost escalation was for the terminal infrastructure.

“The Government remains committed to a resilient safe and reliable Cook Strait connection, but the cost of this project has almost quadrupled since 2018 to approximately $3 billion,” she stated in December.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said the Government would have more to say on new ferries shortly.

“We are determined to make sure that it’s right size, that it’s the right ferries for the right sort of challenge that it’s got and the model that was before really didn’t work,” he said.

“What was utterly unacceptable was to see a project blowout from $750 million to $3.2 billion.”

The Picton Habour tugs played a key role in refloating the ferry after it ran aground on Friday night.

Billot, however, expected new ferries would cost “far more” than the previously contracted ferries.

“We’ve got years of inflation and we’re going to end up still paying a huge amount of money but we’re going to have to go back into the ferry manufacturing.

“You join the queue and that’s going to take years and years and years.”

Additionally, Billot said the cost of the cancellation of the previous ferries also needed to be factored in.

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