Waves flood passenger ferry

Lookout! Issue 28, April 2013

Forty-two passengers and two crew had to be rescued from a 14 metre catamaran commuter ferry, after it was struck by two large waves while making a scheduled harbour crossing.
Damaged ferry
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
Forty-two passengers and two crew had to be rescued from a commuter ferry, after it was struck by two large waves.

The force and weight of water crashing over the bow cracked two of the five wooden mullions (vertical window dividers) across the front of the cabin. Four panes of glass shattered and the cabin began to flood.

As water rushed in through the windows, the forward doors were forced outwards, allowing more water to enter and further reduce the vessel’s freeboard.

Emergency services responded promptly, rescuing those on board.

One engine stalled, affecting the vessel’s ability to manoeuvre, and it began to drift. Because the bilge pumps for that hull were powered by the engine, the pumps had no power and there was no way to remove the water. Emergency services and other vessels promptly responded and all those on board were rescued.


  • The day began like any other for the ferry, which is registered to carry a total of 91 passengers. The company followed its standard processes for determining the conditions, based on the forecast and observations, and it was assessed as safe to sail.
    • However, the weather suddenly deteriorated as the ferry left port, and the master was considering suspending the sailing when the waves struck.
  • The master of the ferry company had followed the correct internal procedure for deciding whether to cancel the service. In this case, the forecast and conditions indicated it was safe to operate, but the sudden weather deterioration and severity was unforeseen.
  • There is always potential for conditions to rapidly change and it is important not only for crew but also for passengers to know how to respond in an emergency. Since this incident, the crew has made improvements to ensure passengers are familiar with the vessel’s safety procedures.
  • System failures and structural weaknesses have been identified and remedied. The vessel’s bilge pumps were not able to operate when the engine shut down and, with no back-up pumps, the vessel had no means of pumping out the water flooding on board.
    • The vessel has subsequently been fitted with 12 volt bilge pumps with auto-float switches and these can work independently of the main engines.
    • A 240 volt portable pump is now available, and hand pumps have also been installed. The mullions and window glass have been reinforced.
  • As a further enhancement to the vessel’s safety system, an automatic identification system (AIS) has been installed to track and monitor vessel movements.
    • In the event of the ferry unexpectedly encountering severe weather conditions, the AIS will let emergency services know where the vessel is, so that they can quickly provide assistance.

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