Cargo ship on autopilot as it hit reef off New Zealand

A CARGO ship that ran aground on a well-charted New Zealand reef last year, spilling tons of oil, was taking short cuts to try to reach port by a deadline, investigators said yesterday.

Thousands of seabirds died in the slick after the Rena smashed into the Astrolabe reef near the port of Tauranga on 5 October. spilling 400 tons of fuel oil.

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The preliminary report by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission reveals the captain and navigating officer deviated from their planned route several times as they tried to make a 3am deadline to reach port. They tried to plot a course much closer to the reef than recommended in manuals.

The ship was on autopilot at the time and the crew were relying on paper charts without electronic charts or an integrated navigational system which could have corrected for differences between ship’s heading and the actual course being taken.