Interislander preparing for new ship's first voyage

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

Interislander crew are learning how to operate the leased Valentine freight ship, ahead of her first voyage across the Cook Strait this month.

Kiwirail has secured the ship for a year at this stage, to ease pressure on the country’s supply chain between the North and South Island.

“It also enables us to ship freight off the other two ships so we can create more capacity for passengers on there,” Interislander general manager Walter Rushbrook said.

“Because of Covid, people are changing their plans so if you still want to travel on the Interislander this summer, there is space available and if you’re a foot passenger, we’ve got loads of space."

The Kaiarahi ferry isn’t expected to have gearbox repairs complete until at least March next year after an unexpected failure this year.

“We couldn’t find an exact match for the Kaiarahi so that’s why we went for a freight-only ship.

“It’s the best ship we could find in the circumstances,” Rushbrook said.

The Valentine has been at sea for more than a month after leaving UK waters, passing through the Panama Canal and crossing the Pacific.

The ship berthed in Wellington on Tuesday with around 60 Interislander staff now taking part in the vessel familiarisation process.

“We do a range of scenarios here in the dock and then we'll do some sea trials before we actually go into service,” Rushbrook said.

That is expected to include some freight being transported across the Cook Strait near the end of this month, before wider bookings launch next month.

The vessel boasts 2.7 kilometres of lane space for vehicles across four levels.

Mr Rushbrook said 50 to 100 trucks will easily fit onboard.

Toll Global Express New Zealand chief executive Jon Adams said the added service can’t come soon enough.

“The impact of effectively being down you know 33 per cent in capacity across the Strait, there was a big impact that we were very concerned about,” he said.

Adams said if everything goes to plan, this is a big step in the right direction with a disrupted supply chain during the pandemic.

“It means that we will be providing more freight on time for our customers and that's been a challenge in a number of areas for a number of reasons with Kiwirail through to the rail to the boats and the service and this solves one of those things, so that’s got to be good news for our customers and that’s good news for us.”

Adams said while the start of the year is usually a quieter freight period, it’s unclear whether that will be case for January and February in 2022.

“There's still an awful lot of product still flowing through,” he said.

The ageing Interislander fleet is prone to breakdowns.

The first of two larger ferries under construction in Korea is set to arrive in 2025.

“That's the ultimate fix and we're concentrating on keeping the current vessels going as reliably as possible until then,” Rushbrook said.