Nobody was seriously injured in 2016, when the cruise ship’s tender boat ran onto the reef with 90 passengers aboard – there were just cuts and bruises as elderly tourists were helped to shore.
But the Cook Islands Ports Authority is anxious to act now, lest the next accident be worse.
The channel by the jetty is to be widened from 15 metres to 20 metres, and dredged to 2.5 metres below mean sea level.
An Environment Impact Assessment report says plans to upgrade the passage are intended to better protect for the safety of people and vessels.
The widening of the channel would pose only limited environmental and social risks to the sandy beach and lagoon surroundings says the assessment, prepared by the National Environment Service.
In the 2016 incident, the tender ran aground on the northern side of the reef, just inside the outer entrance channel at Arorangi Boat Jetty.
Bill Murphy and Robert Rye from New Jersey in the US were aboard the tender when it struck the reef and told Cook Islands News: the tender was most of the way into the passage when a wave came and pushed it onto the reef, where it stuck.
“Once we were stuck on the reef, the waves would come and just push us further onto the reef. We are all just very thankful that no-one was seriously injured; just a few cuts and dents from walking on the reef, but nothing too bad.”
Ports asset and operations manager Andre Tuiravakai said the project was still dependent on public submissions to the National Environment Services, after which the Ports Authority planned to call for tenders.
“This widening of the boat entrance channel will provide international compliance for safer and better navigational and protection during boat tender transiting within the channel.”
The new upgrade would not open the way to larger vessels, he said, but just safer passage for the tender boats ferrying tourist passengers.
This would also make it safer for ships to use Arorangi, when the weather is unfavourable in Avatiu.
The Arorangi jetty lies on the west coast of Rarotonga, about 8kms by road from Avarua and sheltered from easterly winds. It was developed in 2012 as an alternative for port of call for cruise ships to tender passengers ashore.
There is also a boat ramp for small local fishing boats, and dry lagoon access for recreational purposes and school activities.