Professional Skipper Magazine from VIP Publications

#83: Sep/Oct 2011 with NZ Aquaculture Magazine

The only specialised marine publication in Oceania that focuses on the maritime industry, from super yachts to small craft to large commercial ships, including coastal shipping, tugs, tow boats, barges, ferries, tourist, sport-fishing craft

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Page 62 of 99

1900 to 1904. Westport appeared to be a likely source, being directly south of the spot where the mine was found. At that time Westport was an important port, as its mines produced the finest steaming coal in the South Pacific. The reserves were a strategic asset and in 1914 the government feared Vice-Admiral Graf von Spee's cruiser squadron might bombard the port. However, this threat arose some ten years after the mine is believed to have been laid. I wondered if the mine may have been laid in the Buller River at Westport in response to the Dogger Bank Incident of October 22, 1904, when the Russians encountered a fleet of British fishing vessels working the Dogger Bank and opened fire, assuming they were being attacked by Japanese torpedo boats, sinking one trawler, seriously damaging three others and killing two fishermen. Britain was incensed and for a short period the two nations were in a state of near war before Russia apologised. New Zealand condemned the Russians and kept a careful watch to prevent any coal from reaching the Russian squadron as it sailed to the Far East. If mines had been laid at Westport, the most likely vessel would have been the Janie Seddon. Her official records from October 1, 1904 to March 31, 1905 did not mention any mine-laying activities. I needed to consider other options. I considered the remote possibility that it might have come from the 1914 minefield laid off Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands and been carried to New Zealand on the West Wind Drift, but these mines were completely different to the one found. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the origins of this mine are likely to remain a mystery The mine may also have been flotsam from a vessel wrecked off the West Coast. This shipwreck would have to coincide with a naval threat to New Zealand, as it seemed unlikely that harbour defence mines would be shipped to the West Coast without good cause. A search through CWN Ingram's New Zealand Shipwrecks did come up with one possible match, the Kairaki, but this related to 1914, not 1904. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the origins of this mine are likely to remain a mystery. I have been unable to find any evidence it was laid at Westport or any other port on the West Coast. It is possible that it was laid off Australia, possibly as a training exercise, but I cannot find any record of this. There is no strong evidence of any mines being shipped on the Kairaki and the time frame is ten years later than what has been estimated. While this appears to have been an exercise in futility, there are good reasons for investigating this unusual find. By their nature, mines are dangerous beasts. One of the mines laid by the Wolf off Farewell Spit came ashore at a beach near Waikorea, north of Raglan. It was found by a group of local Maori who did not understand what it was and tampered with it. Several were killed in the resulting explosion. Just recently, Royal Navy bomb disposal experts blew up a large Second World War German mine found off the Essex coast. The controlled explosion created a 100m plume. It is highly unlikely there are any other similar mines waiting to be found around New Zealand. If anyone has an answer to this little mystery I would be delighted to hear it. September/October 2011 Professional Skipper 61 FORECASTS HELP PORT O ne of the most powerful supercomputers in the southern hemisphere helps South Port handle about two million tonnes of cargo and move 250 ships in and out of Bluff each year, sometimes in extreme weather. To fulfil the need to ensure the safe passage of ships, South Port subscribes to EcoConnect - NIWA's environmental forecasting and information service. It provides advanced knowledge of weather conditions like wind strength and fog in the inner harbour, and wave height and periods in Foveaux Strait. "Using EcoConnect, we can predict whether we can safely move the ships or not," says the port's general manager, Russell Slaughter. South Port receives EcoConnect's automated "alerts", which send key personnel a text message and an email about forecast conditions. EcoConnect uses real-time data from NIWA's satellite reception systems and environmental monitoring networks, as well as from global networks. The computer, nicknamed Fitzroy, combines this data with complex modelling tools to forecast the weather and its hazards. A weather station on the site of the aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point and operated by NIWA provides local observations, and forecasts of weather and hazards two or six days ahead can also be generated. "Fog is notoriously difficult to predict, but it's important to know for moving ships in and out of the port. The NIWA system works to within an hour or so and is very accurate. In Bluff that timing is very key," says Slaughter. "There is the two-day forecast or the six-day. The two-day is really accurate." If fog is forecast, the pilots use EcoConnect to predict what is going to happen. "Port ships are only moved at high or low tide. So if we know there is fog at shipping time we won't move them," says Slaughter. Cargo container terminal staff monitor wind readings to decide whether to move containers and cargo. If it's too windy for the ships to operate, extra locking devices hold the containers together in the wharf container stacks. "We have some bulk fertiliser coming through the port that can't get wet, so we follow the rain on EcoConnect," says Slaughter.

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