Transport Minister Simeon Brown said the Government is “very disappointed” in the state of KiwiRail’s asset management following the grounding of the Interislander ferry Aratere near Picton last night.

The Kaitaki — the sole operational Interislander ferry, as the Kaiarahi remains in wet dock — is running an extra return sailing this evening to accommodate affected passengers and freight, a KiwiRail spokesperson said.

Independent investigations into the “concerning incident” were underway from both the Transport Accident Investigation Commission and Maritime New Zealand, he said.

“Ministers have made their expectation clear that KiwiRail must take all steps necessary to maintain the safety and reliability of its existing ferries.”

The Interislander lost steering as it departed Picton, said the Transport Minster. (Drone footage supplied by Marlborough District Council / Skyworks UAS)

When asked why the grounding had occurred, Brown said he understood there was a new piece of equipment relating to the ferry rudders recently installed and crew had lost the ability to steer the ship.

He said the Government was committed to investing in a “safe and reliable” Cook Strait crossing.

A report from the Ministerial Advisory Group with recommendations was received in the last week, with shareholding Ministers to make a decision in due course.

Brown said, even if the iReX project was in place, Aratere would have still been sailing today as replacement ships would not arrive until at least 2026.

“Due to the much larger size, questions remained about whether those ships would have been safe to sail the Tory Channel.”

There was also concern about the size of the tugs in Picton and Brown said money for an investigation into ocean-going tugs had been allocated in the Budget.

The Aratere ran aground shortly after leaving Picton at 9.45pm on Friday. (Source: Marlborough District Council/Skyworks UAS)

‘Time to stop blaming KiwiRail’ — Greens

Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said the Government “must come to the table with funding”.

“We call on the Government to commit to deliver replacement ships for the Cook Strait crossing by the next election. It’s time to stop playing the blame game with KiwiRail.”

“Nicola Willis’ reckless decision to cancel the contract for new ferries without an alternative plan in place is disastrous for New Zealand,” she said, in a statement on Saturday.

“In what has become a hallmark of this coalition Government, it has thrown all of its transport eggs into the roading basket, failing to adequately invest in rail and low-carbon, low-cost forms of transport.

“It’s time for the Government to take responsibility and present some real solutions rather than continue making excuses.”

‘Persistent maintenance issues’ — Transporting NZ

Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand says the Aratere grounding was the “latest, worrying development” in “longstanding and persistent maintenance issues” of the Interislander fleet.

“This is another example of a major failure of a ferry in just over 18 months, after the Kaitaki lost power off Wellington last year,” says interim chief executive Dom Kalasih.

“The road freight sector has demonstrated considerable resilience in dealing with ferry disruptions, but we need to see an enduring solution achieved as soon as possible.”

He said these sorts of disruptions should not be happening.

“We need the expert Ministerial Advisory Group tasked with providing independent advice and assurance on the future of KiwiRail’s inter-island ferry service to progress with urgency, and then see a swift response from the Government and KiwiRail.”