Report on cruise ships in Akaroa Harbour released

Further scientific research is required to determine any environmental impact caused by cruise ships operating in Akaroa Harbour, regional harbourmaster Jim Dilley says, following the release of an Environmental Risk Assessment report.

Environment Canterbury commissioned the report, including a review of all available research, in response to concerns from within the Akaroa community that cruise ships operating in the harbour may be damaging the seabed.

“The preliminary findings are that any potential effects can be appropriately managed, but it does highlight that the available research is not sufficient to provide a definitive answer, and recommends further research be conducted,” Dilley said.

“Environment Canterbury will require the cruise industry to provide an independent scientific study during the next 24 months, which we believe will identify exactly what is taking place and will allow us to address any concerns. The timeframe is necessary to determine any ecological impact and recovery cycle.”

In parallel with the report, the Regional Harbourmaster’s Office and the cruise industry worked with community groups and Christchurch City Council to identify areas of concern to ensure suitable risk mitigations are in place for the upcoming cruise season.

About the report

The report (PDF File, 18.45MB) – an Environmental Risk Assessment – is a review of existing science and information. It was commissioned to establish what possible effects, if any, may be caused by the operation of cruise ships in Akaroa Harbour. It was completed by the Cawthron Institute.

The key findings are:

  • There is minimal available science
  • There is potential for some effects of varying degrees
  • The direct disturbance of the seabed could be considered to have less than minor to minor adverse effects
  • Based on the science available, effects are manageable if mitigations are in place
Find out more about the report
1. What does the report say about the impact of particular aspects of cruise ship operations?

The report covers a wide variety of possible effects from cruise ship operations, all of which are already subject to existing legislative controls and mitigations.

The one exception is the possible effects to the seabed caused by a vessel anchoring. Some of the larger vessels may disturb a larger volume of the seabed than permitted within the Regional Coastal Environment Plan (RCEP). Environment Canterbury will now focus on the possible effects of anchoring.

The use of propulsion equipment (thrusters, pods and other propulsion equipment) is allowed under maritime law. In the case of propulsion equipment, 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 harbour. 

2. What is Environment Canterbury’s response to the Environmental Risk Assessment?
Environment Canterbury has worked with the cruise industry and local community groups to identify measures that will help manage the issues causing concern within the community.
Additionally, Environment Canterbury has required the cruise industry to undertake further research as recommended by the report during the next two years to more definitively establish any effects that are occurring at Akaroa as a result of cruise ship operations.
3. What do those key findings from the Environmental Risk Assessment mean?
The report highlights the importance of managing any possible effects appropriately, based on scientific evidence. We can then consider any additional mitigations that could be implemented.
4. Does this report provide sufficient information to change the current situation regarding cruise ship visits?
The report does not provide sufficient information to immediately cease cruise ship operations in Akaroa Harbour. It highlights the need to establish what the actual effects are before considering any further appropriate mitigations.
5. What further action will occur as a result of the Environmental Risk Assessment?

Environment Canterbury will discuss the ongoing operations of cruise ships in Akaroa Harbour with the cruise industry and establish the actual effects. This may inform the level of permitted cruise ship operations in Akaroa Harbour in the future.

6. This report seems to have been delayed – why was that?
The report was commissioned by Environment Canterbury from the Cawthron Institute. It was slightly delayed due to the need to finalise the research contract, staffing issues that impacted on the research required, and additional scientific references identified and provided by Environment Canterbury the during review of the report.
7. Does this report change the way cruise ship visits will be approved or managed?
The current controls on cruise ships in Akaroa Harbour are extensive and ensure all operations are undertaken in a controlled manner. Environment Canterbury will continue to focus on possible effects from anchoring to ensure the control measures are observed.
8. What mitigations are currently in place and will any others be implemented?
Environment Canterbury has worked with the cruise industry and local community groups to identify measures that will help to manage the issues causing concern within the community. These measures have included agreed standards for vessels operating in Akaroa Harbour. These standards, the Akaroa Harbour Principles of Operation, are included within the updated Navigation Safety Operating Requirements. They include:
  1. Identified anchorages and requirement to use these anchorages. This provides safe anchorage locations where ships do not endanger each other and ensure any seabed disturbance does not impact wide swaths of the Harbour
  2. Wind limits are in place that prevent ships entering the Harbour, or remaining in the harbour, when it is unsafe to do so. The wind limits also serve to minimise the possible dragging of an anchor and limit the swing area of a vessel. This minimises possible seabed disturbance
  3. Minimum under keel clearance (UKC) requirements are in place to ensure safe navigation and additionally they minimise possible disturbance of the seabed
  4. Noise controls in place
  5. Light controls replicating Department of Conservation standards (Akaroa Harbour Principles of Operation)
  6. Marine oil pollution response plan
  7. On-site rapid pollution response equipment
  8. Trained pollution response staff (Environment Canterbury and Department of Conservation)
  9. Operational oversight and audit (on-site staff and manning)
  10. An agreed set of principles of operation outlining expected standards of operation
  11. Limitations on the use of thrusters except for the safe manoeuvring of the vessel and/or safe embarkation/disembarkation of passengers
  12. Limitations on the use of certain fuels
9. If Environment Canterbury can’t say definitively there’s no significant impact from cruise ships, shouldn’t visits be stopped until it can?
The report has been compiled by independent experts. The report does not identify any issues sufficient enough to immediately cease cruise ship operations. The regional harbourmaster has requested more research be conducted to confirm what any potential effects are to make an informed decision.
Stopping cruise ship operations would have wide effects on the community and Canterbury region and the information within the report does not indicate that is necessary.
10. Why do you believe there’s no breach of the Resource Management Act despite the report suggesting there are some potential effects on the seabed from cruise ships?

A breach of the Resource Management Act requires two components – a breach of the Regional Coastal Environment Plan and proven adverse effects.

There is no clear evidence of adverse efffects from cruise ship operations. The reports notes possible effects can be appropriately mitigated with the measures currently in place.

11. How many cruise ships are due to visit this season?
There are 92 cruise ships set to visit Akaroa Harbour in the 2019/2020 season.
12. Do you expect cruise ships to continue to visit in the numbers they have been?
Environment Canterbury expects this number to drop for the 2020/2021 cruise season when the Lyttelton cruise berth becomes available. There are no confirmed vessel arrivals for Akaroa at this point but early estimates suggest about 40 smaller to medium ships will visit Akaroa.
13. What was the cruise industry’s response to the report and what you’re asking of them?
The cruise industry has been provided the report and updated on the proposed next steps. Operators are working alongside Environment Canterbury to ensure the new operating requirements are implemented effectively and are also considering how to identify and best implement any additional measures required. The cruise industry has always been responsive and open to discuss any matters in the past.
14. How will this effect cruise ship operations in Akaroa in the future?
Environment Canterbury wants to confirm a sustainable level of cruise ship operations for Akaroa Harbour. Cruise ship volumes may remain low after the Lyttelton cruise berth becomes available, or they may fluctuate. In either case, good science will help to confirm how to best manage cruise ship operations, including the number of visits.
15. Does the two-year research window buy Environment Canterbury time for the problem to go away?
The report does not indicate that there is a problem, it also doesn’t say there isn’t. The two-year window provides a period to establish the science and make a decision based on the facts. This is not a decision that can be made lightly.
16. Why did you not get here earlier, and commission research sooner?
Environment Canterbury acted immediately when concerns related to the legality of seabed disturbance by vessel anchors were raised. This included identifying the legal requirements and provisions, and then commissioning the report.

What are the operating standards

These control measures have included the provision of an agreed set of standards for vessels operating at Akaroa. These standards, the Akaroa Harbour Principles of Operation, are included in the updated Navigation Safety Operating Requirements (PDF File, 4.31MB).

They include:

  1. Identified anchorages and requirement to use these anchorages. This provides safe anchorage locations where ships do not endanger each other and ensure any seabed disturbance does not impact wide swaths of the Harbour
  2. Wind limits are in place that prevents ships entering the Harbour, or remaining in the harbour, when it is unsafe to do so. The wind limits also serve to minimise the possible dragging of an anchor and limit the swing area of a vessel. This minimises possible seabed disturbance
  3. Minimum under keel clearance (UKC) requirements are in place to ensure safe navigation and additionally, they minimise possible disturbance of the seabed
  4. There are noise controls in place
  5. Light controls replicating Department of Conservation standards (Akaroa Harbour Principles of Operation)
  6. Marine oil pollution response plan
  7. On-site rapid pollution response equipment
  8. Trained pollution response staff (Environment Canterbury and Depart of Conservation)
  9. Operational oversight and audit (on-site staff and manning)
  10. An agreed set of principles of operation outlining expected standards of operation
  11. Limitations on the use of thrusters except for the safe manoeuvring of the vessel and/or safe embarkation/disembarkation of passengers
  12. Limitations on the use of certain fuels

Upcoming cruise ship season

The ongoing season will see about 92 cruise ships of all sizes visit Akaroa Harbour. For the 2020/2021 cruise season, with the opening of the new Lyttelton cruise ship berth, about 40 smaller cruise ships are expected in Akaroa.

With the current control measures and mitigations in place, and the lower volume of cruise ships expected for the 2020/2021 cruise season, Environment Canterbury is satisfied there is no breach of the Resource Management Act.