iReX (Inter-Island Resilient Connection Project)
The Harbourmaster’s role is to ensure maritime and navigation safety in Marlborough.
The scheduled arrival of the two new Interislander ferries in 2026 will see the Harbourmaster undertake a risk assessment and risk-based approach to the vessels introduction to the Marlborough Sounds. To date, this involves working with KiwiRail to identify a roadmap for the introduction of the ferries and reviewing the risk management work being prepared.
Interislander has put back the delivery of the first new ferry from 31 August 2025 to 26 February 2026, to avoid bringing it into service during the busy peak season and avert impacting customer service. Construction of the first ferry will get underway in March 2024, as planned. Delivery of the second ferry moves from 31 May to 30 September 2026.
The change to the delivery date was jointly agreed with the Hyundai Mipo Dockyard and at no additional cost to KiwiRail.
When the new ferries arrive in New Zealand, they will undergo a programme of preparation before they can operate commercially. This includes berthing trials, crew safety and operational training and familiarisation, and onboard service preparation.
The current ferries operate under a pilotage exemption certificate (PEC) scheme administered by Maritime New Zealand. The exemption certificates are limited to certain vessels or vessel sizes. As the new ferries exceed the current PECs held in the Interislander fleet, they will be required to enter the Queen Charlotte Sound via the Northern Entrance, and be under the guidance of a pilot until such time the Harbourmaster is satisfied that the larger, more technologically advanced ferries meet the safety standards required.
During this time, continuity of transits through the Northern Entrance will be required to demonstrate that any risk is mitigated. How the ships are managed by KiwiRail will also be evaluated. For example, ferry crews will need to demonstrate they are familiar with safety procedures and guidelines relating to the new ferries. While the propulsion system, which is brand new for KiwiRail, and the leading-edge technology included in the new ferries will have been tested using a simulator, testing in a real-life environment is also required.
The iReX project is being managed through a partnership between Te Ātiawa o te Waka a Maui, Port Marlborough and KiwiRail alongside the Marlborough District Council and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
Involvement through a different lens
Aside from the Harbourmaster’s role, Council’s involvement extends to cover the local roads and services infrastructure that form part of the iReX project.
Council is also involved financially after it raised funds through its arrangements with the New Zealand Local Government Funding Agency to provide a lower cost alternative to finance Port Marlborough’s share of the Waitohi Picton Ferry Precinct Redevelopment. The decision to on-lend to the Port does not increase rates or cost ratepayers, but rather increases dividends to the Council to over $6 million, offsetting the need for future rates increases.
Go to our media statement for more information