Safety update

August 1996 Submarine cables and pipelines law

This safety update is for all mariners, both recreational and commercial. It is issued to raise awareness of the Submarine Cables & Pipelines Act 1996 and the Submarine Cables & Pipelines Protection Order 1992. It provides information on the Act and Order, and alerts people to the consequences of violating this Act.


Mariners, both recreational and commercial, are advised that on 16 May 1996, the new Submarine Cables & Pipelines Protection Act 1996 (the 1996 Act) came into force, replacing the Submarine Cables & Pipelines Protection Act 1966. The Submarine Cables & Pipelines Protection Order 1992 (the 1992 Order) remains in force with the new 1996 Act. The Act and the Order should be read together. The consequences of violating this Act are now very severe.

Information on submarine cables and pipelines law

Key provisions of the 1996 Act are:

  • All fishing activities and all anchoring activities (with one minor exception - see Minor Exceptions below) are illegal within protected areas. It is an offence to cause damage to a submarine cable or submarine pipeline, either wilfully or negligently (however caused, whether by fishing, anchoring, jettisoning equipment or debris from the vessel, or by other means).
  • If a net, line, rope, chain or any other thing used in connection with fishing operations or anchoring is observed being towed by, or operated or suspended from, a vessel of any size, it will be presumed, at law, that a fishing or anchoring operation is being conducted. Having any equipment that may be used for fishing or anchoring deployed over the side in a protected area is considered to be fishing or anchoring (whether or not such equipment is fully deployed) and is an offence. As examples, having a partly deployed net in the water in a protected area (whether or not the trawl doors are in the water) or loading a net onto the vessel in a protected area are both activities which are illegal.
  • Where there is evidence that any equipment is being used over the side, the onus is now on the vessel operator to prove that he or she was not fishing or anchoring rather than on the prosecution to prove that they were. This is a reversal of the normal onus of proof that applies in law.
  • Commercial operators fishing or anchoring in a protected area are liable on conviction to a maximum fine of $100 000 and non-commercial operators are liable to a fine of up to $20 000 • $250 000 maximum fine for damaging a cable, whether wilfully or negligently.
  • The Court may order that a ship or other property used in an offence may be forfeited to the Crown.
  • Where the protection officer thinks that an offence is being committed, he/she may require the master of the vessel:
    • to identify a vessel, its master and owner, and
    • to leave a protected area when requested to do so

Fines of up to $5000 and $10000 respectively may be imposed for failing to identify a vessel or failing to leave when requested to do so.

Protection officers have authority to seize equipment that is left set or abandoned within a protected area.

In addition to the Cook Strait Protected Area (see below) there are nine other Protected Areas in the following locations:

  • Great Barrier Island
  • Hauraki Gulf
  • Kawau Island
  • Whangaparaoa Peninsula
  • Muriwai Beach
  • Taharoa • Oaonui
  • Hawke Bay
  • Maui ‘A’ and Maui ‘B’ Pipelines

Mariners should make themselves fully aware of the details of these areas which are described in the Submarine Cables and Pipelines Protection Order 1992 and the restrictions which apply in these areas. The master of any vessel fishing or anchoring must even if he or she is outside the area, make proper allowance for the wind, tidal stream , current, sea and swell which might carry the vessel into a protected area. A vessel which has an anchor out or fishing equipment over the side within the protected area, will for the purposes of the Act, be deemed to have committed an offence.

Cook Strait Protected Area

The Cook Strait submarine high voltage direct current (HVDC) power cables and fibre optic cables are laid within the Cook Strait Cable Protection Zone (CPZ). The power cables are New Zealand’s interisland electricity link. The fibre optic cables are the main inter-island telecommunications link as well as a key component of the electricity supply control system.

These links are vital to New Zealand’s economy. The power cables carry 35% of North Island power on average over a year. The consequences to New Zealand of damage to these cables are severe and include multi-million dollar repair costs and widespread long term disruption to electricity supplies and telecommunications traffic.

Minor Exception

With one minor exception, all fishing and anchoring is illegal within the Cook Strait CPZ.

The exception is that crayfishing, the taking of paua (subject also to fisheries regulations as to quota and permitted areas) and the use of set nets are permitted ONLY within 200m of the shore (low water mark) AND outside the yellow warning signs located at either side of Oteranga Bay and Fighting Bay. This exception requires that:

  • such activities are only carried out in daylight, and
  • any vessel used to support them does not anchor.

Fishing of any kind supported by a vessel is NOT legal within Fighting Bay or Oteranga Bay, or between the warning signs at any distance from shore or further than 200m from shore anywhere in the Cable Protection Zone.

The Cook Strait Cable Protection Zone

As defined in the 1992 Order, the Cook Strait Cable Protection Zone is:

"Area 7 - Cook Strait;
All that area bounded by straight lines commencing at the low water mark at position 41° 18’.51S, 174° 14’.28E , then to position 41° 16’.81S, 174° 32’.97E, then to the low water mark in position 41° 17'.80S, 174° 37'.00E, then by the line of low water to position 41° 19'.23S, 174° 37'.93E, then by straight lines to position 41° 20'.50S, 174° 35'.10E, then to position 41° 22'.20S, 174° 14'.60E, then to the low water mark in position 41° 20'.30S, 174° 10'.60E, then by the line of low water to the position of commencement."

The Correct Chart

Every mariner operating in a protected area should ensure that he or she has on board the correct chart. For Cook Strait it should be the most up-to-date version of chart NZ 463, which at 16 May 1996 was the 1995 printing of the July 1986 edition with corrections to 1995 No. 370. This chart shows the present CPZ, which was extended south when new power and fibre optic cables were laid in 1991.

Trans Power is actively monitoring vessel activity in the Cook Strait CPZ using both a patrol vessel and a helicopter. Contact details for these are below. The patrol crews are protection officers under the 1996 Act.

Trans Power Cook Strait Cable Protection Zone Patrol Contacts

Patrol Vessel
"Seawatch" or "Seasurveyor" or any other vessel that may be designated by Trans Power.

Calls may be made 24 hours per day on:

  • VHF Channel 16
  • Cellphone/fax (025) 445-299 (same number either "Seasurveyor" or "Seawatch")

Patrol Helicopter
Call "Trans Power Helicopter":

  • VHF Channel 16.

Important note

This notice is for guidance only and details relating to the law must be obtained from the Submarine Cables and Pipelines Protection Act 1996 and the Submarine Cables and Pipelines Protection Order 1992.

Original source content - Boat Notice 101996, August: Submarine cables and pipelines law.

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