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Chief Commissioner's Overview

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission serves New Zealand in particular ways.  For example, New Zealand needs a strong, successful and safe tourism industry to earn foreign exchange and employ a growingly skilled work-force.

New Zealand needs a flourishing and safe coastal fishing industry, able to earn foreign exchange and employ thousands of men and women who wish to participate in this expanding primary sector of our economy.

New Zealand needs in its single major metropolitan region, Auckland, a rail system capable of moving some fifteen to twenty million people a year on an electrified double track network with twenty-first century rolling stock similar to that operated in Paris, Tokyo or Berlin.

The work of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission contributes to the achievement of the nation’s goals in tourism, fisheries and the building of a twenty-first century Auckland, by investigating and making
safety recommendations on accidents and incidents which have already occurred in these particular sectors. 
New Zealand needs safe tourism, safe fisheries and a safe Auckland rail system.

In May, 2006, while travelling from Kaihuka, in the Breaksea Island Group in Foveaux Strait to Bluff, the coastal fishing vessel Kotuku capsized causing the death of six of the nine persons on board, two of whom were children.

Despite the difficulties of a winter-time salvage in depths exceeding 30 metres, the vessel was successfully raised to the surface and towed to Port William, a shelving sandy bay on the West Coast of Stewart Island.  Later, with the use of a flotation collar the vessel was towed to Riverton, Southland and taken by land to Invercargill.

Since recovery the Commission has obtained an expert technical opinion on stability issues based upon the systematic examination of the wreck itself together with computer-based stability modelling data.

On 11 September 2007 the Commission distributed its preliminary report to interested parties and on 11 October 2007 the Commission held a hearing in Invercargill to receive in person the responses, in particular, of the relatives of the deceased.

The fishing vessel Kotuku is representative of an aging coastal fishing fleet industry employing perhaps up to two thousand people.  When the Commission has completed its full investigation and publishes its findings and recommendations in 2008, the New Zealand fishing industry will gain some valuable lessons from this Foveaux Strait disaster.  This work will contribute to higher standards of safety for the New Zealand maritime sector and in particular, New Zealand coastal fishing.

Some two and a half million foreign tourists visit New Zealand each year.  As well, New Zealanders enjoy holidaying in their own country.  The inter-island ferry operations across Cook Strait and the burgeoning Fiordland operations involving sea-going over-night vessels carrying hundreds of passengers, are centrally important components in this growing market.

Following a series of “incidents” (that is, events or conditions which have the potential to result in non-trivial amount of damage or injury) in both Milford Sound and in Cook Strait commercial shipping operations, the Commission opened a set of investigations.  To assist the Commissioners’ understanding of the environmental conditions under which these services operate the Commission visited Milford Sound in December 2006 and travelled the Cook Strait in March 2007 on the Interislander Ferry Kaitaki.

While at the Milford Sound the Commissioners met representatives of all the operators, to see “first hand” how the operators work in a spectacular but potentially dangerous environment and to converse with the regulatory authorities.  The Commission records its appreciation of the co-operative attitude of all those involved in strengthening safety in this scenic attraction in Milford Sound which now hosts almost half a million visitors a year (470,000 in 2005). 

When the Commissioners made a Cook Strait crossing in March 2007 on one of the principal operator’s vessels they viewed “firsthand” the bridge, and the engine-room and assessed over-all the completion of a safe journey through the Cook Strait between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea.

The Commission also records its appreciation of the way in which the operator helped the Commissioners’ understanding of its operations.

Another series of incidents involving operations of the Auckland rail system, moving some five million passengers each year, prompted the Commissioners to arrange a full day in August 2007 travelling on the trains, inspecting the diesel multiple unit maintenance facility at Westmere and viewing Britomart Transport Centre, and thereby gaining a direct understanding of this network.

The particular challenge in transport safety posed by the Auckland traffic congestion problem, is that the vast new capital investment in the rail network up-grade for double-tracking, electrification and new rolling stock, designed to shift a further ten million passenger a year off the road and onto rail in the next eight years, generates unprecedented difficulties. 

Until the double tracking and the electrification project is completed within the next five years, the new trains cannot be put in place.  Consequently, unwanted rolling stock from Australia and Britain is being deployed on a make-shift basis pending “the laying of the foundation” for the “state of the art” rolling stock yet to be commissioned.  The conflict between the old existing rail system with the building of a new twenty-first century urban rail network, must be managed by the participants.

Commissioners met representatives from the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, Land Transport New Zealand, Ontrack, Veolia Transport and Toll Rail.  Ontrack has already commenced a $600 m capital programme to upgrade tracks, platforms and signalling before 2011 in order to plan for ten minute frequencies based upon “state of the art” rolling stock.  A further $500 m will be invested before 2013 to electrify this network.

In summary, the Commission’s discharge of its statutory obligations of inquiring into and reporting with recommendations for safety improvement, occurs within the context of a changing, growing New Zealand. 
The mission is to learn from the past because the future is open and can be influenced. 

Hon W P Jeffries

Chief Commissioner