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Cruise Ship History: The TEV Wahine Disaster and the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand.

Cruise Ship History: The TEV Wahine Disaster and the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand.


On Christmas Eve 1959 the ferry RANGITIRA (left) touched the bottom while entering Tory Channel and was forced to remain in Picton. This photo was taken on 26 December 1959 and shows Lyttelton ferry MAORI (right) which made a daylight return crossing to Picton from Wellington to relieve the congestion of waiting holiday makers.

Brief History of the Union Steam Ship Company

The Union Steam Ship Co. of New Zealand, founded at Dunedin in 1875, began in a small way in the coastal trade but quickly extended its services overseas. It entered the cargo and passenger trade between New Zealand and Australia in 1876 and in 1881 began trading to the South Pacific Islands. Seven years later it started a direct service to Calcutta and eastern ports.

It re-entered the mail and passenger service to San Francisco in 1910 and maintained it until 1936. In 1901 the company bought a share in the Canadian Australasian Line, of which it subsequently became the sole proprietor. This service – Australia and New Zealand to Vancouver – wound up soon after the Second World War. The Union Co. ended its passenger service to Sydney at the close of 1960, leaving the Huddart Parker Co. to carry on, the latter having been in the inter colonial passenger service since 1892.

The TEV Wahine Disaster

The Wahine disaster occurred on 10 April 1968 when the TEV Wahine, a New Zealand inter-island ferry of the Union Steamship Company, foundered on Barrett Reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbour and capsized near Steeple Rock. Of the 610 passengers and 123 crew on board, 53 people lost their lives.  The wrecking 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 TV news.

Video reports on the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the inter-island ferry Wahine. The Wahine sank during a fierce storm inside Wellington Harbour (10th April, 1968).

For a complete history and details of the Wahine – click here to visit the New Zealand maritime website.

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