Remembering tragedy and courage: Wahine 50-year commemoration dawn ceremony

Minister of Civil Defence Hon Kris Faafoi says tomorrow’s dawn ceremony to commemorate 50 years since the Wahine disaster will be a poignant occasion, and a highly personal memorial for those affected by the tragedy.

Mr Faafoi will attend the public service at Eastbourne with Minister of Transport Hon Phil Twyford, and will lay a wreath for the victims of the disaster.

Many of the 51 fatalities occurred on the rocky Eastbourne shore, Mr Faafoi says, but 683 lives were saved thanks to the valiant efforts of rescuers, including large numbers of civilians.

“We will remember the Wahine disaster as a day of immense tragedy, but also of incredible effort and incredible courage. I am humbled to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who experienced the terrible events of 50 years ago, whether they were survivors, rescuers, family members or the supporting community.

“As a result of the devastating impacts of Tropical Cyclone Giselle, many hard lessons were learned and changes were made to the way we manage emergencies in this country.  The way in which Wellington communities rallied round to rescue the people coming ashore was an example to all of us. And this lesson has not been forgotten.

“As we’ve seen in recent emergencies, such as the 14 November Earthquake and Edgecumbe flooding, people want to help their neighbours and communities and are often first responders to emergencies. This community spirit is key to getting us through disasters, which are an ever-present risk in our country.”

Minister of Transport Phil Twyford says that fateful day in 1968 is etched into our nation’s collective memory.

“The Cook Strait can be a fearsome stretch of water. The loss of the interisland ferry Wahine has changed the way ships are built and has made the crossing much safer.

“One of the key factors in the final capsize of the Wahine – the build-up of water on the vehicle deck – means that around the world these vessels are now designed so that if the hull is damaged they will remain afloat and stable.

“The Wahine disaster has shaped maritime safety systems and has driven the adoption of technology to make safety the primary concern,” Phil Twyford says.

Weather forecast has meant the ceremony will take place at 6.30am at the Muritai School Hall, on Muritai Road in Eastbourne.

The public and media are welcome to attend.