Cruise ships

Cruise ships have been a popular discussion point in Canterbury during the past few summers, particularly in Akaroa where there has been an increased presence of cruise ships while the Lyttelton port remains unavailable. Our Harbourmaster’s Office is one of a range of bodies that plays a key role in managing cruise ship activity in our region.

Key functions of the Harbourmaster’s Office include:

  • Contact the ship before the vessel gets to the harbour and discuss weather conditions prior to determining if they are within set operating parameters. If so, grant permission to enter and confirm which anchorage site is approved for use
  • Meet the agent at the launch and discusses any requirements or issues.
  • Update the vessel on conditions once the vessel is in the harbour and enforce speed and wake requirements.
  • Discuss tender operations, which marine VHF radio working channel they will use, and which side of the wharf pontoon to use, with vessel.
  • Monitor the tenders and other vessels on the wharf during the day, noting movements of all vessels. Ensure all vessels allow fair use of the wharf.
  • Maintain communications with the ship as necessary and resolve any potential issues or concerns.
  • Grants permission for the vessel to leave if conditions are within operational parameters. 

Environmental Risk Assessment report

We have commissioned a report from the Cawthron Institute regarding cruise ships in Akaroa Harbour. It was sought to establish what possible effects, if any, may be caused by the operation of cruise ships in Akaroa Harbour.

Find out more about the outcomes of the report and frequently asked questions.

Frequently asked questions

The following frequently asked questions have been provided to assist people with further information about the cruise ships and what they mean for the region.

If you have any questions or concerns about cruise ships, please feel free to contact us.

How does the cruise ship schedule come together?

Each cruise ship operator (via their shipping agent) requests access to wharf and harbour facilities up to 18 months in advance. For Akaroa, this involves:

  1. Requesting access to Akaroa Harbour from the Harbourmaster’s Office. This is only declined if the Harbourmaster’s Office has navigation safety concerns.
  2. Requesting access to the Akaroa wharf from Christchurch City Council. This is declined if the capacity of the wharf is exceeded.

On extremely rare occasions, cruise ship visits have been declined due to wharf access availability.

Why are there days when multiple cruise ships visit?

Cruise ship companies arrange their schedules independently. Each ship has its own itinerary, and these will sometimes double up.

Multi-ship visits to the harbour on the same day may involve a variety of different-sized vessels and are rare in the context of the wider season.

Who is responsible for the facilities in Akaroa that support cruise ships?

The Harbourmaster’s Office is responsible for ensuring the safety of navigation.

To ensure safe navigation, the Harbourmaster’s Office has a strict set of operating criteria for all ships more than 40m in length.

In addition, all vessels are tracked and recorded remotely as well as by staff on site. Lead lights are provided to guide a ship to the entrance of the harbour. A rigorous safety management system ensures all procedures and requirements are complied with.

Christchurch City Council is responsible for the Akaroa wharf, the public toilet and local parks, rubbish removal, issuing temporary traffic management plans (required when activities vary the normal operations on a road), and managing commercial operators on Council land and facilities.

Who is allowed to use the jetty and who can use the jetty during cruise ship visits?

Christchurch City Council owns and operates the Akaroa wharf. All vessels can still access the wharf during cruise ship visits. They cannot obstruct its use i.e. tie up and wander into town, but they can come alongside to offload or load stores and passengers. All vessel masters should work together to ensure a fair use of the facility for all.

What does the monitoring role of the Harbourmaster's office entail?

The Harbourmaster’s Office staff member serves a dual role on cruise ship days: Monitoring navigation safety (under a warrant issued by Environment Canterbury under the Maritime Transport Act 1994); and monitoring access to/from the wharf by vessels (under a warrant issued by Christchurch City Council for their Marine, River and Lake Facilities Bylaw 2017).

Will the new cruise berth in Lyttelton mean ships will stop going to Akaroa?

There’s a general expectation that once the Lyttelton Port has a cruise berth, the number of cruise ships going to Akaroa will decrease.

Are there any regulations regarding emissions from cruise ships?

Yes, emissions from ships are controlled by the Resource Management (Marine Pollution) Regulations 1998, Regional Coastal Plan and Annex VI of the International Marine Pollution regulations.

Environment Canterbury has conducted detailed studies of air quality at Lyttelton and found that air quality is comfortably within World Health Organisation and national guidelines – despite significantly greater shipping, rail, and road traffic than is the case in Akaroa.

Given this, we can be confident there are no issues with air quality in Akaroa from cruise ships.

There have also been recent changes in international regulations which require ships to use low sulphur fuel or to have ‘scrubbers’ which remove certain pollutants from exhaust discharges.

Read the full requirements for ships navigating within the Canterbury region (PDF File, 43.73KB).

Who manages the noise from cruise ships in the Akaroa Harbour?

We manage noise in Akaroa Harbour as detailed in the Regional Coastal Environmental Plan Rule 8.21(d).
Cruise ships generally anchor in Akaroa Harbour during daylight hours meaning they need to ensure their noise emissions do not exceed 85 dBA at any point on land outside the Coastal Marine Area between 7am and 10pm.
The measurement point applicable for noise sources outside the port areas is the boundary of the Coastal Marine Area. Generally speaking, the boundary of the Coastal Marine Area is approximately the high tide line.

There are a handful of exemptions regarding noise emissions under Rule 8.21(f) of the Regional Coastal Environmental Plan, the most likely to apply to cruise ships include: the normal operation of navigational aids, safety signals, warning devices, including ships sirens, and pressure relief valves.

Do cruise ships cause much disturbance to the seabed?

Ships may disturb the seabed by using their propulsion equipment, thrusters, and anchors. This may produce discoloured water near a ship, similar to the discolouration seen during periods of rough weather. The use of propulsion equipment, thrusters, and anchors is allowed as part of maritime law.

The Resource Management (Marine Pollution) Regulations 1998 applies. Schedule 4, section 15, describes “ship propulsion” as part of the “normal operations” of the ship. Environment Canterbury has discussed this with cruise ship operators and secured agreement that the use of thrusters will continue to be minimised in Akaroa.

We believe anchoring is preferable to the use of thrusters, where possible. Further discussions are underway with cruise ship companies around how they can further minimise their environmental impacts.

In partnership with the Department of Conservation, Christchurch City Council, and ChristchurchNZ, we are reviewing cruise ship activity in Akaroa.

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