A report on the grounding of the cargo ship Rena says its radar picked up an intermittent echo directly in front of the vessel nine minutes before it struck a reef in the Bay of Plenty.
The Rena struck Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga on 5 October last year, spewing oil and containers into the sea and polluting beaches.[image:4775:half:right]
An interim report on the grounding was released by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) on Thursday, setting out the facts of the accident.
The report says the Rena had left Napier 13 hours later than planned because of a holdup in cargo operations there.
As it approached Tauranga, just after midnight on 5 October, Tauranga Harbour Control advised that its estimated time of arrival of 3am was at the end of the time window for the pilot to board and the ship should make best speed for the pilot station.
The ship's position was marked on the chart at 1.42am with the next scheduled to be logged at 2am.
But the report says a seaman did not plot the mark at that time because he did not want to interrupt the captain and second mate who were leaning over the chart talking.
Just after 2am, the ship's master noticed an intermittent echo on the radar 2.6 nautical miles ahead.
The report said binoculars were used to find the source of the echo, but nothing could be seen.
At the time of the grounding the master had left the bridge and had made his way to the chartroom to plot the Rena's position.
The ship struck the reef 12 nautical miles from the coast at a rate of 17 knots.
The TAIC investigator in charge of the Rena inquiry, Robert Thompson, says there is no evidence to support theories of drinking on board the ship before it ran aground.
He said various theories about activities on board the ship when it ran aground will be considered in the final report.
That report is to be issued next year and will analyse why the grounding happened.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says it is surprising how long the Rena was on track to hit the reef it grounded on.
However, Mr Brownlee says he sees no need for any maritime law changes to avert a similar event happening again.
Mr Brownlee is also ruling out a separate inquiry into the grounding and response to the disaster.
Prime Minister John Key says he was surprised by what he read in the interim report on the grounding of the container ship Rena.
He told reporters in Tauranga on Thursday that he is looking forward to the final report that will say who is responsible.