10th April 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the tragic loss of the TEV Wahine in Wellington Harbour with the loss of 51 lives (eventual toll, 53 lives).
This event shocked the New Zealand nation, but also the international maritime community. It remains New Zealand’s best known, but not that country’s worst shipping casualty. One of the images shows TEV (turbo or turbine electrical vessel) Wahine listing and being abandoned from her starboard side, about an hour before she rolled over and sank in Wellington Harbour that afternoon.
Surely among the most beautiful of the many fine vessels built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd of Govan, Glasgow, the Wahine was fitting out at Fairfield’s on the Upper Clyde when her builder went into receivership on 15th October 1965. Fairfields (Glasgow) Ltd subsequently completed her, but the Wahine failed to meet her contract speed of 22 knots when steaming the Arran Measured Mile in the Firth of Clyde on 27th May 1966 and again on 14th June 1966.
She entered the Wellington- Lyttelton Steamer Express service on 1st August that year for her owner, the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Ltd.
Just 20 months later, entering Wellington Harbour at the finish of a routine overnight voyage from Lyttelton, TEV Wahine was struck suddenly, without any warning to her bridge, by the worst weather event ever recorded in New Zealand’s history up until that time. Driven onto Barrett Reef, without engines or steering and with all but four of her 14 watertight compartments fully or partially flooded, in a tribute to the skill of her Scottish builders she remained afloat, stable and upright for the next 5½ hours while dragging her anchors up-harbour in winds gusting to 123 knots.
Eventually and inevitably however, the Wahine began listing as the result of free surface effect from water that had seeped onto her main vehicle deck. All 734 of her passengers and crew were evacuated from the ship in her lifeboats and life rafts, but 51 lost their lives in the sea before they could be rescued.