Ongoing concerns over boaties stopping in the way of cruise ships has prompted a reminder of the ban on anchoring in part of the Bay of Islands when the huge vessels are moving within the harbour.
Jim Lyle, the Northland Regional Council’s Opua-based Regional Harbourmaster says the ban was issued last year amid safety concerns linked to the Bay’s growing popularity as a cruise ship destination.
Mr Lyle says about 40 cruise ships are expected to arrive this season, which typically runs from now until April, with the largest - the Queen Mary 2 - 345 metres long and with a 148,528 gross tonnage.
Between them the cruise ships will carry about 80,000 to 90,000 passengers and crew, many during the busy months of January and February.
Mr Lyle says under Maritime NZ rules, ships more than 500 gross tonnes (GT) must be guided by a licensed pilot into the Bay.
“To do this the cruise ships approach on the Waitangi sector light and rendezvous with the pilot, who boards the cruise ship about three nautical miles out from Tapeka Point, and in line with the Waitangi sector light. The ship then heads in on the sector light to anchor within the Bay of Islands pilotage area at a position decided by the pilot.”
He says the large ships, which have drafts of up to 10 metres, are required to stay within the sector light approach for navigational safety reasons.
“But in recent years, we’ve been experiencing increasing problems with other, smaller recreational vessels anchored in their way. In many cases these smaller boats do not realise a cruise ship is even approaching as they’re so focussed on their fishing.”
Mr Lyle says due to their size, weight and drafts, cruise ships can’t manoeuvre anything like as quickly and nimbly as a smaller vessel and obviously need to stay in deeper water.
“It’s vital they’re not forced to alter course just to avoid small boats. Similarly, recreational boaties should also realise that once their boat is close under its bow, they can completely disappear from view from the bridge of a cruise ship.”
Mr Lyle says to avoid potential accidents, he had in the lead up to last summer issued a ‘harbourmaster’s directive’ which applies to all vessels in the Bay of Islands Harbour which is inside the line between Cape Wiwiki, Ninepin Island and Cape Brett.
“This bans any vessel from anchoring within any sector of the Waitangi Sector light, from the 10 metre depth contour line adjacent to Hermione Rock, out to three nautical miles from Tapeka Point towards Ninepin Island when a vessel over 500 gross tonnes is moving within the harbour.”
The ban applies when the larger ship is either approaching to pick up a pilot, approaching to drop anchor or picking up anchor to leave the harbour.
Mr Lyle says any vessel that is anchored in this area must keep a sharp lookout for approaching or departing vessels.
“They usually arrive early morning, and leave late afternoon or early evening, but can move at any time. If one is seen, the anchored vessel should immediately pick up anchor and move away from the limits of the sector light.”
Similarly, if the Northland Regional Council pilot vessel approaches and signals any vessel that it is impeding the safe navigation of another ship, that vessel must immediately pick up anchor and move away from the limits of the sector light.
“If people are unsure whether a vessel over 500 GT is moving, or is likely to move within the harbour, they need to err on the side of caution and not anchor within the sector light limits.”
Mr Lyle says boaties had responded positively to last year’s anchor ban and their co-operation had been appreciated and resulted in noticeable drop in problems despite a record 54 cruise ship visits to the BOI.
He was hoping this month’s repeat of the publicity over the directive would have a similar result this season.