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1968: Dozens die in NZ ferry disaster

Fifty-one people have died after a ferry capsized in Wellington Harbour, New Zealand during one of the worst storms ever to hit the country.

The TEV Wahine, carrying 610 passengers and 125 staff, ran aground as it entered the harbour in the early hours of this morning.

Many passengers drowned or were dashed against the rocks as they abandoned ship and several life-rafts capsized in the raging seas.

Rescue efforts were severely hampered as coastguards battled against 18ft (5.49m) waves to reach the stricken vessel.

Violent seas

The tragedy began in the early hours of this morning as a warm tropical front met a cold southerly storm in Cook Strait between the South Island and the North Island.

This created violent seas and winds of more than 99mph (160km/h) on the approach to Wellington Harbour.

As the Wahine entered the harbour it was dashed into rocks on Barrett reef and the vessel's radar system was incapacitated.

Captain Hector Robinson immediately dropped both the ship's anchors in an attempt to steady the ship, but she was dragged through the harbour towards Seatoun.

The ferry, listing from side to side, was battered by heavy seas for several hours before rescuers were able to reach her.

The order to abandon ship was not given until about 1330hrs, by which time much of the lower deck of the boat was flooded.

Hundreds of people managed to make their way to the shore where they were rescued by local volunteers.

A base was set up at Muritai School where survivors were given drinks, food and blankets. Most of those who perished were elderly or infirm.

In total 44 passengers, six crew and one stowaway died.

The abandoned ship finally sank to the seabed at about 1430hrs after rolling completely onto her starboard side.

When the ferry had left Lyttelton harbour on New Zealand's South Island at 2040hrs last night weather conditions were good.

Although there had been weather warnings there had been no indication that the storms would be so severe.

In Context
Attempts were made to salvage the Wahine but storms the following month broke up the wreck.

Ten weeks after the disaster a Court of Inquiry was set up.

In December of the same year it published a list of errors and omissions made both onshore and aboard the ferry.

At the same time it was noted that these occurred under very difficult and dangerous conditions.

The Inquiry found that the primary reason for the Wahine's loss was the presence of water on the vehicle deck.

Fault was found with Captain Robertson for failing to report this to those onshore.

A memorial made from ventilation pipes, an anchor and chain from the ship has been erected on the foreshore at Seatoun to mark the last resting place of the ship.


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