Wharf’s $10m ‘dolphin’ back to bite Goff

Forget the America's Cup bases. Plans for a $10 million, 85-metre structure out into the Waitemata Harbour to berth super cruise liners are back on the table.

Mayor Phil Goff made a high profile objection to the 'dolphin' structure when he was first elected a year ago, citing its intrusiveness into the downtown harbour and its cost. He instructed the Auckland Council bodies planning the solution for cruise liners too big for the wharves to consider lesser options.

But technical studies which go before councillors on Thursday show that Goff's smaller, cheaper options would be unable to safely berth the big ships, which can be more than 350 metres long.

Instead, the council will be asked to endorse two 'dolphins' or mooring structures, connected by a walkway, and extending up to 85 metres off Queen's Wharf. The walkway concept had previously been criticised by opponents of the cruise ship berthing plans. To have the structure in place by the summer of 2019/20, planning consent applications would need to be lodged early next year.

That would mean the structure could be in use two years later than originally mooted by the council agencies.

The council proposes to recoup its $10 million spend on the structure from visit fees imposed on the cruise companies.

The walkway would not be open to the public.

A report for councillors says "there is an urgent need to undertake the next phase of cruise infrastructure to cater for larger cruise ships like the Ovation of the Seas - which is 350m long, carries 4900 passengers and had to be moored in the stream off downtown Auckland and ferry passengers ashore by small boats last summer".

Cruise ship visits are estimated to provide $220 million in annual benefits to the Auckland economy, and provide around 4000 jobs. The report says ship visits grew from 40 in 2006 to 104 for this summer, with passenger numbers up from 60,000 to 220,000.

Goff's smaller 'inner dolphin' proposal was found by maritime consultants Dale Cole & Associates to be unable to safely moor the big vessels "within the parameters required and in the wind and tide conditions experienced in Auckland".

They recommended Auckland future-proof its cruise industry facilities by building to accommodate Oasis class ships of 362 metres long that are expected to come to Auckland in between five and 10 years. These ships are said to be 2.7 times the size of the famous vessels of yesteryear such as the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary.

"Obviously, cruise ship operators have to make sure their capital investment is protected. An Oasis class cruise ship visiting Auckland represents an investment of approximately $US1.4 billion, accommodates a maximum of 6680 passengers and has a crew of 2196."

If councillors accept the expert report, the two dolphins would be the same height as Queens Wharf.

Even with the new dolphin structures, there remains concerns from consultant Beca Ltd over the structural integrity of Queens Wharf for cruise chips over 295 metres long.

The dolphins would be connected by a walkway, or gangway, to the wharf and have a platform between them. This is said by Dale Cole & Associates to provide further safety should an urgent departure of a ship be ordered by the Harbour Master.

However the company recommended against public access to the walkway, because the dolphins would contain sensitive electrical and remote control equipment.

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