Interislander ferry Aratere: Leaked document reveals autopilot button was pressed by mistake and crew did not know how to turn it off

The crew on the bridge realised the ship was heading in the wrong direction and tried to regain control. The document said this meant there was “approximately one minute” left before the crew could change the direction of the propulsion system and prevent the ship from running aground.

“The bridge team noticed the (sudden turn) of the ship… and tried to put the rudder back into manual mode, but were unable to take control. It was about a minute before… the reverse propulsion was used, but it was too late and the ship ran aground in Titoki Bay,” the document reads.

“The following preliminary causality is what is known at this point in the investigation process. While the process is underway and a more comprehensive picture of the facts is consolidated, it is unlikely that the following causes will change significantly.”

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Claims that none of the crew knew how to override the autopilot were understood to form part of investigations into the June 21 incident. The charge He said the complaints indicated the crew did not know they needed to hold the button for five seconds to turn off the autopilot.

The document said the accidental button press “initiated a chain of events that led to the landing.”

“The accidental and premature operation of the starboard multipilot launch button initiated a chain of events that led to the grounding. The reasons for the failure to regain control that should have corrected this unplanned deviation are part of the ongoing investigation and more information will be shared at a later date,” the document reads.

Interislander executive general manager Duncan Roy said the safety bulletin was sent to ensure crews across the ferry fleet were aware of the incident.

Roy said: “This bulletin is designed to quickly ensure that crew across the fleet are aware of what is known at the time following a serious incident. It does not replace the three full investigations (KiwiRail, Maritime NZ and TAIC) into the grounding incident which are ongoing.”

Aratere’s autopilot system was not new and has been in operation since 2007, he said.

“It is important that we understand all the factors involved in the incident, including the underlying causes. A fair and thorough investigation process is essential for all parties and is being followed.”

The Aratere ferry suffered a steering failure before running aground.
The Aratere ferry suffered a steering failure before running aground.

Maritime NZ also addressed NZ First’s suggestions about what went wrong with the ferry, saying the grounding was not caused by “a crew member leaving the bridge to make a coffee”.

Meanwhile, a lawyer hired by a maritime union has dubbed the situation “Nescafé.”door”.

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Maritime NZ chief executive Kirstie Hewlett said the regulator had inspected the ship and gathered more information over the past two weeks.

“Earlier this week, we inspected the vessel and observed that it was undergoing a number of tests while docked, relating to systems, processes and equipment. Following these tests, we have lifted the detention order, but have imposed conditions on the operation of the vessel.”

This means that the Aratere will return to service gradually.

The Aratere when it ran aground. Photo / Tim Cuff
The Aratere when it ran aground. Photo / Tim Cuff

“Initially, conditions will allow for crew and rail freight only (four round trips), then trucks and their drivers, followed by limited passenger service and then full capacity sailings,” Maritime NZ said in a statement.

“Full return to service is subject to KiwiRail demonstrating that it has implemented its return to service plan and that no further issues have been identified.”

Interislander executive general manager Duncan Roy said KiwiRail expected Sailing the boat from Picton to Wellington tomorrow.

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NZ First, a coalition government party, yesterday posed an “extraordinary” question on X about what might have caused the grounding.

“Is it true that the Aratere ran aground when someone put it on autopilot, went to get a coffee, and then failed to turn off the autopilot in time when that someone returned…?” the group posted.

Maritime NZ said its investigation would take several months and would focus on exploring a wide range of factors.

“However, while the cause of the grounding has yet to be formally determined, preliminary investigations by Maritime NZ have determined that the incident was not due to a crew member leaving the bridge to make a coffee.”

KiwiRail also said the “regulated number of qualified persons” were on the ship’s bridge on the night of the grounding.

Maritime lawyer Troy Stade, employed by the New Zealand Merchant Service Guild, told Newstalk ZB Drive host Heather du Plessis-Allan said NZ First’s post and Peters’ comments were “frankly unhelpful”.

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“I am shocked that the acting Prime Minister would raise an unsubstantiated rumour and conjecture in the midst of an active investigation.

“No crew left. Nescafé“The door, if you want to call it that, is little more than an unfounded rumor.”

The ruined Aratere in the Marlborough Sound. Photo / Time Cuff
The ruined Aratere in the Marlborough Sound. Photo / Time Cuff

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said NZ First’s claim was a “serious allegation” and said Peters was not living up to his own standards.

“Winston Peters is the first to criticize anyone who makes an accusation that could affect him in any way negatively and demand that they immediately produce the evidence,” Hipkins told the Herald.

“New Zealand First has made a pretty significant allegation and should provide evidence.”

Peters has declined to comment to several media outlets, including the Heraldabout what evidence his party had to support the accusation and whether he had informed investigators.

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Peters, who is currently acting prime minister while Christopher Luxon is in the US, appeared on The Country radio show this morning and was asked by host Jamie Mackay where the rumour had started.

Peters said he saw the social media post from NZ First, which he said was not his post, and then read KiwiRail’s response on the From the herald history.

“I thought, ‘Wow! That’s not a denial. That’s someone talking about an investigation.’ Why would there be an investigation four weeks later on something as simple as that? This is not complicated.”

Thermal drone images captured by Skyworks show the moment Port Marlborough tugs Maungatea and Monowai free the stranded Aratere.
Thermal drone images captured by Skyworks show the moment Port Marlborough tugs Maungatea and Monowai free the stranded Aratere.

Peters said he would find out more about it.

Mackay suggested to Peters that nothing happened at NZ First without his permission. Peters said the party had a team of people.

Maritime NZ inspectors will now conduct a focused audit of the Interislander fleet in the coming weeks.

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Interislander’s processes, procedures, training and risk management will be discussed, as well as how it incorporates new equipment and familiarises its staff.

“Maritime NZ inspections and audits are a reflection of a point in time and the operator, KiwiRail, has primary responsibility for the safe day-to-day operation of the vessel and its fleet as a whole,” Hewlett said.

The investigation into the cause of the grounding is independent of the detention notice and the audit.