TEV Wahine lists heavily to starboard as she sinks in Wellington Harbour. Some of her lifeboats can be seen on the left.
|Namesake:||Māori word for "woman"|
|Owner:||Union Steam Ship Co of NZ|
|Operator:||Union Steam Ship Co of NZ|
|Route:||Wellington – Lyttelton|
|Builder:||Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering, Govan, Scotland|
|Laid down:||14 September 1964|
|Launched:||14 July 1965|
|Completed:||May 1966|
|Out of service:||10 April 1968|
|Identification:||official number 317814|
|Fate:||sunk in a cyclone|
|Length:||488 ft (149 m)|
|Beam:||71 ft (22 m)|
|Capacity:||924 (night sailings)
1,050 (day sailings)
TEV Wahine was a twin screw, turbo-electric, roll-on/roll-off passenger and vehicle ferry of the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. She was launched by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Govan, Scotland in 1965 and worked the New Zealand inter-island route between Wellington – Lyttelton from 1966. In an exceptional storm on 10 April 1968 she foundered on Barrett Reef and capsize near Steeple Rock at the mouth of Wellington Harbour. Of the 610 passengers and 123 crew on board, 53 were killed.
The wreck of the Wahine is one of the better known maritime disasters in New Zealand's history, although there have been worse with far greater loss of life. New Zealand radio and television captured the drama as it happened, within a short distance of shore of the eastern suburbs of Wellington, and flew film overseas for World news.
Ship background 
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2012)|
TEV Wahine was designed and built specifically for the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, and was one of many such ferries that connected New Zealand's North and South Islands. Dating back to 1875, ferries plied Cook Strait and the Kaikoura coast ferrying passengers and cargo, making port at Wellington in the north and Lyttelton in the south.
By the early 1960s, the Union Company was starting to face major competition on the inter-island route. Apart from air travel, especially with the introduction of turboprop aircraft by the National Airways Corporation, in August 1962 New Zealand Railways began a roll-on/roll-off road and rail ferry service across Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton, which continues today as the Interislander. The Wahine was the Union Company's first purpose-built roll-on/roll-off ferry, introduced to maintain competition with the Railways ferries.
Building Wahine 
Wahine was built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Govan, Glasgow, Scotland. The plan to build the ferry was made by the Union Company in 1961, and her keel was laid at Fairfield's shipyard on 14 September 1964 as Hull No. 830. Built of steel, her hull was completed in just ten months, and she was christened and launched on 14 July 1965 by the Union Company's director's wife. Her machinery, cargo spaces and passenger accommodations were installed in the following months and she was completed in May 1966. She left Greenock, Scotland for New Zealand on 18 June 1966 and arrived in Wellington on 24 July 1966, and sailed on her maiden voyage to Lyttelton one week later on 1 August.
She was 488 feet (149 m) long, had a beam of 71 ft (22 m) and 8,948 gross register tons (GRT). At the time she was one of the World's largest passenger ferries. She had turbo-electric transmission, with four boilers supplying steam to two turbo-alternators that drove her twin propellers, gave a top speed of 22 knots (41 km/h).
Her hull was divided by 13 watertight bulkheads into 14 watertight compartments, designed so that if the hull was penetrated, flooding could be confined to the damaged area. As with all passenger ships built since the Titanic disaster, Wahine had enough lifeboats and rafts for all passengers and crew: eight large fibreglass lifeboats, two 26-foot motor lifeboats each with a capacity of 50 people, and six 31-foot standard lifeboats each with a capacity of 99 people. In addition, 36 inflatable rafts were stored around the ship, each with a capacity of 25 people.
On a normal crossing she had a crew of 126: in the deck department, the master, three officers, one radio operator and nineteen sailors managed the overall operation; in the engine department, eight engineers, two electricians, one donkeyman and 12 general workers supervised the operation of the engines; in the victualing department, 60 stewards, seven stewardesses, five cooks and four pursers catered to the needs of the passengers.
On trips made during the day she could carry 1,050 passengers, on overnight crossings 924, in over 300 single-, two-, three- and four-berth cabins, with two dormitory-style cabins each housing 12 passengers. Common areas included a cafeteria, lounge, smoke room, gift shop, two enclosed promenades and open decks.
Final crossing 
On the evening of 9 April 1968 she departed from Lyttelton for a routine overnight crossing to Wellington, carrying 610 passengers and 125 crew.
Extreme weather conditions 
In the early morning of 10 April, two violent storms merged over Wellington, creating a single extratropical cyclone that was the worst recorded in New Zealand's history. Cyclone Giselle was heading south after causing much damage in the north of the North Island.It hit Wellington at the same time as another storm that had driven up the West Coast of the South Island from Antarctica. The winds in Wellington were the strongest ever recorded. At one point they reached 275 kilometres per hour (171 mph) and in one Wellington suburb alone ripped off the roofs of 98 houses. Three ambulances and a truck were blown onto their sides when they tried to go into the area to rescue injured people.
As the storms hit Wellington Harbour, Wahine was making her way out of Cook Strait on the last leg of her journey. Although there were weather warnings when she set out from Lyttelton, there was no indication that storms would be severe or any worse than those often experienced by vessels crossing the Cook Strait.
Aground in Wellington Harbour 
At 0550 hrs, with winds gusting at between 130 kilometres per hour (81 mph) and 150 kilometres per hour (93 mph), Captain Hector Gordon Robertson decided to enter harbour. 20 minutes later the winds had increased to 160 kilometres per hour (99 mph), and the ship lost her radar. A huge wave pushed her off course and in line with Barrett Reef. The captain was unable to turn her back on course, and decided to keep turning around and back out to sea again.
For 30 minutes she battled into the waves and wind, but by 0640 hrs had lost control of her engines and had been driven onto the southern tip of Barrett Reef, near the harbour entrance less than a mile from shore. She drifted helplessly along the reef, shearing off her starboard propeller and gouging a large hole in her hull on the starboard side of the stern, beneath the waterline. Passengers were told that she was aground, to put on their lifejackets and report to muster stations.
The storm continued to grow more intense. The wind increased to over 250 kilometres per hour (160 mph) and she dragged her anchors and drifted into the harbour, close to the western shore. The weather was so bad that no help could be given. At about 1100 hrs a tug reached her, and tried to attach a line and bring her in tow, but the line broke. Other attempts failed, but the deputy harbourmaster managed to climb aboard from the pilot boat, which had also reached the scene.
Disaster unfolding 
At about 1315 hrs the combined effect of the tide and the storm swung Wahine around, providing a patch of clear water sheltered from the wind. As she suddenly listed further and reached the point of no return, Captain Robertson gave the order to abandon ship. Similar to the sinking of the Andrea Doria 12 years earlier, the severe starboard list left the four lifeboats on the port side useless: only the four on the starboard side could be launched.
The starboard motor lifeboat, boat S1, capsized shortly after being launched. Those aboard were thrown into the water, and many of them drowned in the rough seas. Survivor Shirley Hick, remembered for losing two of her three children in the disaster, recalled this event vividly as Alma had drowned in this lifeboat. Some managed to hold onto the overturned boat as it drifted across the harbour to the eastern shore, towards Pencarrow Head.
The three remaining standard lifeboats, which according to a number of survivors were severely overcrowded, did manage to reach shore. Lifeboat S2 reached Seatoun Beach on the western side of the channel with about 70 passengers and crew, as did Lifeboat S4, which was severely overcrowded with over 100 people. Heavily overcrowded Lifeboat S3 landed on the beach near Eastbourne, about 3 miles (5 km) away on the opposite side of the channel.
Due to the lack of lifeboats, hundreds of passengers and crew were forced into the rough waters as the she sank. When the weather cleared, the sight of her foundering in the harbour urged many vessels to race to the scene, including tugs, fishing boats, yachts and small personal craft, which rescued hundreds of people. Over 200 passengers and crew reached the rocky shore of the east side of the channel, south of Eastbourne. Because this area was desolate and unpopulated, many survivors were exposed to the elements for several hours while rescue teams tried to navigate the gravel road down the shoreline. It was here that a number of bodies were recovered.
At about 1430 hrs Wahine rolled completely on her side.
Some of the survivors reached the shore only to die of exhaustion or exposure. 51 people died at the time, and two more died later from their injuries, 53 victims in all. Most of the victims were middle-aged or elderly, but included three children; they died from drowning, exposure or injuries from being battered on the rocks. 46 bodies were found; 566 passengers were safe, as were 110 crew, and six were missing.
10 weeks after the disaster, a Court of Inquiry found errors of judgement had been made, but stressed that the conditions at the time had been difficult and dangerous. Free surface effect caused Wahine to capsize due to a build-up of water on the vehicle deck, although several specialist advisers to the Inquiry believed that she had grounded a second time, taking on more water below decks.
The report of the inquiry stated that more lives would almost certainly have been lost if the order to abandon ship had been given earlier or later. The storm was so strong that rescue craft would not have been able to help passengers any earlier than about midday. Charges were brought against her officers but all were acquitted.
Early hopes that she could be salvaged were abandoned when the magnitude of structural damage became clear. As the wreck was a navigational hazard in Wellington Harbour, preparations were made over the next year to refloat her and tow her into Cook Strait for scuttling. However a similar storm in 1969 broke up the wreck, and it was dismantled (partly by the Hikitia floating crane) where it lay.
Wahine Memorial Park marks the disaster with a bowthruster, near where the survivors reached the shore at Seatoun. J. G. Churchill Park in Seatoun has a memorial plaque, the ship's anchor and chain, and replica ventilation pipes. A plaque and the main mast are at the parking area next to Burdans Gate on the eastern side of the harbour, on the coast where many of the survivors and dead washed up. The fore-mast is part of another memorial in Frank Kitts Park in central Wellington. The Museum of Wellington City & Sea has a permanent commemorative exhibition on its maritime floor that includes artifacts and a film about the storm and the sinking.
- Cameron, Stuart; Strathdee, Paul; Biddulph, Bruce; Campbell, Colin (2002–2013). "Wahine". Clydebuilt database. Clydesite.co.uk. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
- "The Turbo Electric Vessel WAHINE, 1966-1968". The New Zealand Maritime Record. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- Initially the official toll was 51, but two names were added 22 and 40 years later respectively.Williamson, Kerry (9 April 2008). "Recognition 53rd Wahine victim". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 10 April 2008.
- "History of Cook Strait ferries". KiwiRail. 2011. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
- "Wahine Shipwreck". New Zealand Disasters. Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 7 June 2008.
- "Questions and Answers". The Wahine. Retrieved 31 July 2011.(subscription required)
Further reading 
- Boon, Kevin (1999) . The Wahine Disaster. Petone: Nelson Price Milburn. ISBN 0-7055-1478-1. — a booklet for children
- Ingram, C.W.N. (1980) . New Zealand shipwrecks: 195 years of disaster at sea. Auckland: Beckett. ISBN 0-908676-49-2. The 1980 edition includes a chronological hour-by-hour account of the Wahine's sinking and details of the ensuing Court of Inquiry.
- Lambert, Max; Hartley, Jim (1974) . The Wahine Disaster. Reed; Collins Fontana Silver Fern.
- Makarios, Emmanuel (2003). The Wahine Disaster: a tragedy remembered. Wellington: Grantham House. ISBN 1-86934-079-5.
- T.E.V Wahine (O.N. 317814) Shipping casualty 10 April 1968 Report of Court and Annex Thereto. November 1968. — the official report of the Court of Inquiry. It is very detailed and recommended for those who wish to do serious research into the disaster.
- The Wahine disaster NZHistory.net.nz – includes images, sound and video
- The Wahine Murray Robinson's comprehensive personal site detailing the ship's last hours, her history of operation, and the captain's career.
- The New Zealand Maritime Record: TEV Wahine Web Site – a detailed account of the ship, including the sinking, with many photographs.
- The Wahine Disaster by Max Lambert (1970)
- Co-ordinating the rescue – Wahine Disaster – explores the ability of the police to respond to the Wahine disaster.
- Deaths from the sinking of the TEV Wahine – lists those who died in the disaster.
- The Wahine Disaster – gives an account of the sinking, with links to Cyclone Giselle and other New Zealand disasters.
- Revell & Gorman – The Wahine storm – research paper published in the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. This paper (available in pdf format) is an academic evaluation of the meteorology of Hurricane Giselle.
- The day the Wahine went down – from the Wairarapa Times-Age
- On This Day – BBC story on the Wahine
- Trailer to 2008 Wahine disaster film
- The Dominion Post photos of Wahine – enter, go to Categories:Archive;Wahine
- TVNZ DVD of Television documentary