The wife of a ferry skipper hospitalised after a collision with a motorboat in the Bay of Islands says he is an experienced, vigilant skipper who has never been involved in an accident before.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) is investigating the incident, which left ferry skipper Bill Elliot seriously injured with suspected head and spinal injuries. The 77-year-old was airlifted from Paihia to Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital and has undergone surgery for critical injuries this afternoon.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) is investigating the incident which happened shortly before midday Thursday, one passenger on the ferry saying a “massive launch” came full throttle straight towards its side before it crashed. The 50-year-old Waitere ferry, also known as the ‘Blue Ferry’, had just left Russell, en route to Paihia.
The motorboat – which one witness said had two 300 horsepower outboard motors – hit the side of the ferry at the front, close to where the skipper was. Several people were thrown into the water.
Lois Elliott told RNZ her first thought was “How could this possibly happen? Who’s been hurt?”.
“When I found out that there didn’t appear to be any real casualties apart from Bill, then you start to question what went wrong. How could this happen?”
Lois said Bill got his skippers ticket in 1981 in Wellington.
“He already had boating experience, enough boating experience to get his restricted limits launch master at that stage. So then while we’ve been in the Bay, you can’t be in the Bay without getting more boating experience.”
The couple began running the ferry in 1999. For the past 10-15 years he has done maintenance on the vessel while also piloting it two to three days a week.
“In the 40 years that we have lived in Russell, there are three ferry companies that run on a 20 minute interval. Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, and this is the first time this has happened.”
Northland Regional harbourmaster Jim Lyle told Checkpoint the Blue Ferry had been partially raised out of the water, but further work would continue on Saturday.
The vessel was in about 6 to 8 metres of water depending on the tide, he said.
Today, following the incident, there have been renewed calls for boat operators to have some kind of mandatory training or licence before they take the helm.
Lyle said a licence for driving a boat was something harbourmasters had been arguing for for years.
“We would prefer that everyone who went out on the water had some sort of training and registration and licensing. As far as the road goes, you’ve got vehicles registered, and everyone has a licence. That doesn’t happen on the water.
“So it does cause us quite a bit of problems. The consequence is that you need to treat everyone out there as if they really don’t know the rules and don’t know what they’re doing… You just don’t know what anyone else’s experience is.
“We give out infringements. We operate under Regional Council bylaws, navigation safety bylaws.”
Infringement fines varied from year to year, Lyle said. Mostly they provided education more than enforcement, and mostly they saw cases of ignorance.