Media release: Rare Steam Past on Wellington’s waterfront – to mark 50th Wahine Day – Tuesday, 10 April

Some 50 vessels will mark the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster with a very rare Steam Past on Wellington’s inner harbour this coming Tuesday, 10 April.

NZ Police Commissioner Mike Bush will acknowledge each vessel with a salute as it passes the Wahine mast on Frank Kitts Park, and the historic bell from the World War I hospital ship Marama will ring twice.

“This is a very special tribute to the 53 who died in the disaster, and to the many who took out their boats in appalling conditions to rescue Wahine passengers and crew 50 years ago’” says Rhys Jones, Chair of the Wahine 50 Charitable Trust that has organised the Wahine 50 commemorative programme for 10 April.

“Thanks to their tenacity and the support of many on land, 683 passengers and crew survived the ordeal.”
But the Steam Past is also a tribute to the rescuers of today.

Chair of the Wahine 50 Trust Rhys Jones (right) and Steam Past organiser Lewis Robinson (sit by the former pilot launch Arahina, one of the ‘special’ group of rescue boats taking part in the Wahine 50 Steam Past on Wellington’s inner harbour on 10 April. The Arahina rescued 55 Wahine passengers and crew on 10 April 1968.

“About 40 of the boats and their crews taking part in the Steam Past are the rescuers of today,” says Rhys. “The vessels are on the ‘call out’ list of the NZ Police, the Rescue Coordination Centre of NZ, and Regional Civil Defence, should there be an incident at sea in which large numbers of people are endangered.”

Another 10 boats of ‘opportunity’ have been invited to join the Steam Past. “These will represent the boats that in times of emergency might be in the area or respond to a ‘general all ships call’ for assistance,” says Rhys.

And a small but very special group of boats that took part in the 10 April 1968 rescue are also included, as well as a few of the original rescuers. These will get a special mention by the Steam Past narrators.

“This is a great opportunity for the public to come down to the waterfront and pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the disaster, and to all who put their lives on the line when they head out, often in rough conditions, to rescue those in trouble at sea.” says Rhys.

The Steam Past is one of a day of events that will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster in Wellington on 10 April. A Wahine 50 service, with choral tribute by the Orpheus Choir, will take place near the Wahine mast from 11.30am to noon.

The public can also visit the free ‘Wahine 50 – ‘P.S. Are You Prepared’ display in Wellington’s Shed 6 from 11.30am to 4.30pm – to find out how best to prepare for disaster from 21 of the country’s leading emergency response organisations, over a cup of tea/coffee served by the Salvation Army and a Wahine 50 commemoration biscuit (numbers limited).

“This 50th Wahine Day is a time for remembrance, a time for gratitude, and an opportunity to look to the future,” says Rhys. “In recent times we’ve had numerous serious civil emergencies in New Zealand – cyclones, earthquakes, floods, fire. This 50th anniversary throws a spotlight on the need for us all to be prepared.”

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