Poor watchkeeping contributes to Rena grounding – TAIC report

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 48, June 2015

Work has begun on implementing three recommendations made to Maritime New Zealand by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC), in its findings about the grounding of the container ship Rena.
Maritime New Zealand ©2022
The RENA, foundered on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga in October 2011.

TAIC found in December that the Rena grounding, off the Bay of Plenty coast in October 2011, occurred due to poor watchkeeping by the crew, and a failure to follow best practice guidelines for making and following passage plans. A further cause was the crew’s failure to follow company procedures for monitoring the progress of the ship’s passage in relation to known navigational dangers.

TAIC has recommended Maritime NZ:

  • Promote through the International Maritime Organisation, the transparency of the system for auditing countries’ seafarer training systems.
  • To consider the use of virtual aids to navigation, and work with regional councils and port companies to control the use of virtual aids until they have been fully assessed.
  • Collects sufficient data on shipping movements around the New Zealand coast that will enable Maritime NZ and local government authorities to monitor the potential need to introduce ship routing of some form.

Maritime NZ is considering the second two recommendations through its Coastal Navigation Safety Review, which is currently being consulted on. Maritime NZ staff are working with the maritime industry, interest groups and regional council harbourmasters to gather information on risk factors and existing mitigation measures – that will inform the review’s analysis phase, expected to be completed around August.

TAIC is clear in its report that the introduction of ship routing for all coastal New Zealand is not justified at this time. However it has identified a lack of available data on shipping around the coast, and the review aims to collate a wide range of data – focusing on ships of 500 gross tons or more, 45 metres long or more, and fishing vessels of 45 metres or larger.

Currently an Automatic Identification System (AIS) provides information on where commercial vessels are at any given time around the New Zealand coast, but it is not practical to monitor all vessels at all times. In the 2013 year there were 32,264 movements of ships of 500 gross tons or more, in and out of port, compared to 35,043 movements in 2004 and 38,346 in 1999. These figures do not include the large number of recreational vessels using New Zealand’s coastal waterways.

The use and effectiveness of aids to navigation, such as beacons identifying hazards to shipping, will be assessed as part of the coastal navigation review. TAIC has indicated that while virtual aids may be one alternative for highlighting dangers to navigation, they should not be introduced before research and development of performance standards has been completed.

Maritime NZ is including the first TAIC recommendation – the improvement in transparency of the current Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978 – into the work programme underpinning its strategy for New Zealand engagement with the International Maritime Organisation.

The worst environmental accident in New Zealand’s maritime history, the Rena ran aground about 2.20am on October 5, 2011, on Astrolabe reef, near Motiti Island, as the ship was nearing its destination of Tauranga, spilling bulk oil and containers. The wreck broke in two during stormy weather three months later. Four commissioners have been appointed this year to decide whether resource consent should be granted to allow part of the Rena wreck to remain on the reef.

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