The Kaitaki, the only current operational Interislander ferry on Cook Strait

The country faces a potential supply chain crisis with holdups on goods crossing Cook Strait after an accident and a mechanical breakdown have taken two of Kiwirail’s ferries out of action.

The company is currently diverting some of its booked freight to its rival, Strait Shipping.

The problems began on Tuesday when a 50-tonne locomotive at Picton along with two wagons shot off the wharf into the sea.

The locomotive was being remote shunted at the time, and there was no vessel in the berth where it went over.

But now, it is at the bottom of the only berth in Picton that can be used by Kiwirail’s Interislander flagship, Aratere.

So Aratere is tied up in Wellington.

There are plans today for Smith Crane and Construction, the family company of former National MP, Nick Smith, to try and raise the ship.

Meanwhile, a second ferry, the Kaiarahi, had a major gearbox breakdown on Wednesday morning travelling from Picton to Wellington and is now also tied up in the city.

Thus Kiwirail is now down to only one ferry on the run, the Kaitaki, and this will raise questions about whether the supply chain running across the Strait, which has already been disrupted by Covid, will be further disrupted.

Executive General Manager Interislander Walter Rushbrook told POLITIK yesterday that preparation was continuing Picton for the safe recovery of the KiwiRail shunt locomotive and wagon that fell into the harbour.

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“Aratere is presently unable to berth in Picton because the recovery activity is focussed around Aratere’s Picton berth and because of damage to the linkspan used to load the ferry.

“As a result, we have cancelled Aratere’s sailings for today (Thursday).

“We are not certain when Aratere can resume sailing at this stage as we are still dealing with a complex retrieval at the Picton berth.

“Owing to the lockdown, fortunately, freight volumes are lighter than normal, but in the meantime, we are shifting affected freight to either Kaitaki sailings or to Strait Shipping to minimise customer delays and disruptions.

“We continue to carry out repairs to Kaiarahi, which had issues with its gearbox while crossing from Picton to Wellington on Tuesday morning.

“No timeframe for the completion of the repairs to the Kaiarahi is available at this stage, but we are making progress.”