French cruise ship and DOC to make maritime improvements

The L’Austral. Image: TAIC

A luxury French cruise ship should improve its voyage planning and information systems following a collision with rocks while on a 16-night South Island cruise.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission made the recommendations following a report into the incident involving the 160m long L’Austral, which was bound for the Snares Islands carrying 200 passengers and 156 crew in January.

The report also recommended that given the likely increase in cruise activity in the sub-Antarctic region, the Department of Conservation needed to step up its maritime expertise.

The investigation was launched after L’Austral drifted into an unauthorised zone and hit rocks while it was transferring passengers off small boats that had been used to make shoreline excursions from the ship to the islands.

While there were no injuries and damage to the ship was minimal, only causing it to call to Bluff for minor repairs upon its return, the TAIC report identified three safety issues.

These included “that the activity to recover the ship’s rigid-hulled inflatable boats was not well planned; that the ship’s position was not being adequately monitored; and that the standard of bridge resource management on board L’Austral did not meet good industry practice”.

It also flagged up that the Department of Conservation had “insufficient maritime expertise applied to assessing the risks to ships and the environment”.

These findings led it make two recommendations to the operator “to address the safety issues regarding the standards of voyage planning, the bridge resource management, and the training and use of electronic chart display and information systems”.

The Commission made one recommendation to the Director-General of the DOC that, “given the potentially harsh and sensitive environment in the sub-Antarctic islands and the likelihood that shipping activity will increase in future, he appoint a suitably qualified person to manage the safety of navigation in the sub-Antarctic islands”.

L’Austral is currently the subject of a second TAIC investigation which was launched in February after the French-registered passenger vessel hit rocks in the Milford Sound.

The commission’s chief investigator, Tim Burfoot, said the the vessel only had minor damage to its hull.

However, he added: “The second event in itself is of concern enough to launch an inquiry…. The fact that it is the second of these events in such a short space of time has given more of a sense of urgency for us to find out what’s actually happening.”

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