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Search in Wellington Harbor for man believed to have fallen overboard on ferry

A search is underway in Wellington Harbor for a passenger who appears to have fallen overboard.

It was a misty morning in Wellington.
Photo: RNZ/Charlotte Cook

A search is underway for a man believed to have fallen overboard from a ferry in Wellington Harbour.

The missing person is a Pākehā man in his 40s, police say. They are urgently seeking information to help identify him.

Deputy Port Director Patrick Atwood said he was told the only passenger on the first east-west ferry crossing from Queens Wharf to Days Bay on Friday morning was no longer on board when the ship arrived at the dock.

Atwood said Morning report the odds were not in the missing man’s favor.

A search is underway in Wellington Harbor for a passenger who appears to have fallen overboard.

A boat is seen heading into Wellington Harbour.
Photo: RNZ/Charlotte Cook

It was a cold morning in Wellington and “when they realized the person was missing, it was still dark,” he said.

He said the police maritime unit, the Coast Guard and several other vessels were searching the port.

“They threw everything that was available at him. I’m told about a dozen boats plus helicopters were involved; a substantial effort was made to try to locate this person.

He could not say where in the port the person might have disappeared.

East by West ferries from the city to Days Bay were canceled Friday morning due to the search.

Rebecca Sim, a Wellington woman trying to catch the ferry, said she was about to dock when the warning lights suddenly came on and she sped away.

An East by West ferry returns to dock after searching for a man who fell overboard in Wellington Harbour.

An East by West ferry returns to the dock after a round of searching.
Photo: RNZ/Charlotte Cook

She and other people waiting for the ferry saw it circling the port. Sim instead took a bus to work.

East by West Ferry says the search is from the center of the harbor to Days Bay and is extensive.

The ferry company said it needed to complete the search before determining what had happened.

Maritime New Zealand data shows two people have fallen from passenger ferries in Wellington in recent years. This does not include the larger Cook Strait ferries, which are classed as “roll-on vessels”.

Their accident, incident and mishap reporting summary shows that both people fell off a ferry in 2020 at Days Bay Wharf.

A passenger fell into the water after slipping on the lower ladder inside the main cabin. And a sailor fell into the water, before swimming under the pier and climbing the ladder. It is unclear what caused them to fall into the water.

Since 2019, there have also been seven injuries, most due to slips and trips.

RNZ has contacted East by West Ferries for comment.

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