Special safety directive for Whangarei Harbour
A special directive has been issued on safety grounds requiring all vessels to stay well clear of large ships, including oil tankers, within Whangarei Harbour.
The 'harbourmaster's direction' has been issued by the Northland Regional Council's Regional Harbourmaster Jim Lyle after regular near misses involving large ships negotiating the harbour to access deep water jetties and wharves operated by Refining NZ, Northport and the Portland cement works.
Mr Lyle says the latest incident involved a kayak cutting about 100 metres in front of an oil tanker approaching the Marsden Pt oil refinery last month.
Whangarei Harbour entrance (Image: Full Moon Photography).
He says the very large vessels involved – all of which are more than 500 Gross Tonnage (GT) – are usually so big they have limited manoeuvring capability at close quarters, slow speed and in shallower waters.
"Effectively, they need the full available width and extent of marked navigation channels to navigate safely and their sheer size means they can also have very large 'blind spots' which can stretch for several hundred metres in front of them."
Mr Lyle said given those limitations, smaller vessels impeding them risked being hit or forcing the larger vessel to leave the marked channel, either of which could have obvious – and very serious – consequences.
He says the new directive is effective immediately and applies to all vessels under 500 GT or less than 24 metres long. Those breaching it risk a jail term of up to 12 months or a fine up to $10,000.
"The directive affects sailing and power-driven vessels and 'vessels under oars' (the latter capturing both kayaks and canoes) and legally requires them to stay well clear of vessels over 500GT."
Within the defined Whangarei Harbour limits as shown on Chart NZ5219, those vessels are required to:
- Avoid crossing the bow of any ship over 500 GT. (If crossing the bow is unavoidable, they must stay at least 500 metres clear at the closest point of approach);
- Keep at least 100m away from the sides and stern of a ship over 500 GT;
- Keep as far to the right side of the marked navigation channel as possible at all times and if a ship over 500 GT approaches, leave the channel if safe to do so;
- Keep well clear (500m whenever possible) when a ship over 500 GT is berthing or leaving a berth. This also applies to any other vessels helping with the berthing/leaving procedure – like tugs – as well as the berth, wharf or jetty itself;
- Not stop, anchor, fish or lay fishing equipment anywhere in the marked navigation channel at any time.
Mr Lyle says while most local vessels routinely listen to local Coastguard radio, the council also urges those near large commercial wharves/jetties in Whangarei Harbour to regularly check VHF Channel 19 (Whangarei Harbour Radio) and VHF Channel 16 (International calling and distress) to help them keep track of commercial shipping movements.
He says harbourmaster's directives are not issued by the regional council lightly and in the past several years, this is only the fourth issued.
Meanwhile, he points out that nothing in the direction relieves the master (skipper), crew or operator of any vessel of their obligation to comply with the requirements of all applicable maritime rules, local bylaws and safety management systems.