Cruise Ship Runs Aground in New Zealand’s Fiordland

Taking a short two-day cruise around the New Zealand Fjords took a turn for the worse for 57 guests onboard the Fiordland Navigator.

Guests onboard the Fiordland Navigator, a small sailing cruise ship operated by RealNZ, experienced a scare during their overnight trip as their vessel ran aground on January 24, 2024. 

The incident happened in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand, a fjord some 80 miles south of the popular Milford Sound. The incident, which occurred around 6:15 PM local time, resulted in the vessel sustaining a minor breach in its hull and taking on water.

Small Fjord Exploration Cruise Ship Runs Aground

The Fiordland Navigator operates overnight cruises in Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Although the vessel and its crew are experienced sailing in the area, an unexpected event occurred nonetheless on January 24, 2024. 

During an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound, the vessel ran aground, taking on water. The vessel’s captain managed to make a mayday call that alerted local emergency response crews who quickly made it to the scene.

Luckily, all 57 guests and 10 crew members on board were safely evacuated to the nearby town of Te Anau without any major injuries. Only one minor injury was reported, promptly attended to by medical personnel. 

The Fiordland Navigator was refloated around 08:30 on the night of January 24 and returned to its berth at Deep Cove, not far from where the vessel ran aground. The ship is now undergoing necessary repairs.

Investigations Underway

As with every maritime accident, especially one that occurs in one of New Zealand’s stunning national parks, a country know for its strict biosecurity measures, local authorities were quick to initiate an investigation. 

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) of New Zealand Acting Chief Investigator of Accidents, Jim Burtenshaw, told Lakes Weekly:

“The team’s evidence collection work is broad at first to support the many routes that the investigation could follow. As always, TAIC’s initial focus is on gathering evidence that could disappear or change – evidence from the accident site, the vessel itself and memories while they’re fresh in people’s minds.”

“Over the next several days, TAIC’s investigators will secure electronic records – including photos, videos, and location data on people’s cellphones – and interview vessel operator staff, crew and witnesses.”

Fiordland Navigator
Fiordland Navigator (Photo Credit: Uwe Aranas)

Fiordland Navigator is a vessel operated by RealNZ, a local tour operator that operates one and two-day cruises to Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. 

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RealNZ’s Acting CEO, Paul Norris, confirmed the company is cooperating fully with the investigations. The company is also performing its own investigation into the incident and is checking the seaworthiness of the vessel.

“We are awaiting details of this assessment so that we, and our vessel surveyor, can determine what repairs need to be undertaken to restore the watertight integrity of the vessel,” Norris said. 

“The Navigator will remain out of service until both RealNZ and our surveyor are satisfied she is safe and fully compliant – this will be for at least the next few days.”

The grounding of the Fiordland Navigator highlights the challenges and unpredictability inherent in maritime travel, even when sailing in areas intimately familiar to the crew sailing onboard.

It’s only because the crew onboard Fiordland Navigator took the action needed to keep themselves and the 57 guests onboard safe that the grounding did not end in a much more severe manner.

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