Adrian Wright, Harbour Master

Adrian Wright is a slightly unlikely candidate to ascend to the role of Hawke’s Bay Harbourmaster. Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Wright wanted to be an architect.

Then his mother mentioned a maritime university.

“She showed me this brochure with a picture of a captain with a sextant on the bridge of his ship. He had his captain’s epaulettes on, with a big beard and a white hat,’’ Wright said.

Wright hadn’t grown up playing with boats in the bath. He didn’t know any mariners, but that picture of the captain instantly intrigued him.

Four years later he’d graduated with a mariner’s certificate and a life on the sea ahead of him.

He worked as a navigator on oil, gas and chemical tankers across the globe for 14 years. Like many of his peers, Wright had no intention of pursuing a shore-based life.

Then he came to New Zealand on holiday and met a girl. “I was thinking let’s go back to Jamaica and she was like ‘no, you move here’,’’ said Wright.

“Being a mariner in Jamaica is interesting because, working overseas, you’re earning foreign currency, so I was being paid in US dollars. “The cost of living was low, so you live a really good lifestyle.’’

But the mariner’s life can be a hard one on families. Wright would spend four months at sea, two months at home and then go back to sea again.

“Right before I got married, I was on a ship doing Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Poland, Finland. I left that ship, went back to Jamaica for a few days, packed my bags, flew to New Zealand, got married,’’ Wright said.

The honeymoon was largely a year-long study trip to England, where Wright sought the requisite skills to eventually land a job ashore.

Many people will have seen the film Captain Phillips, about a ship captured by Somali pirates. Wright had one experience of that nature, off the coast of Costa Rica. Thankfully that only amounted to a robbery, rather than a hijacking.

It’s weather that tends to be the biggest danger on the vast tankers Wright navigated through Europe, Africa and North and South America. “I’ve been in two or three really bad situations where you thought this might be it,’’ he said. Those days are largely behind him now.

Wright became deputy Hawke’s Bay Harbourmaster in 2022, so he is no stranger to the comfortable corner office he now occupies at Napier Port.

A Harbourmaster has responsibility for every vessel in a region, but Wright says it makes sense to be based at the port.

“The port is our major stakeholder in that the highest risk to maritime safety, in terms of oil spill and in terms of commercial vessels having collisions or groundings, is here,’’ Wright said. “So, this is the hub in a way for where the biggest risk and biggest danger would be.

“It’s convenient to have an office here because we work quite closely with the port for commercial ships. 

Additionally, we issue permits to ships. “So, permits, if they want to do engine immobilisations when they need to do maintenance on the ships, if they want to do hot work such as welding, if they want to do anything that would generate a source of heat that could lead to a fire or an explosion, they need a permit.’’

Officially an employee of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Wright works with a number of governmental organisations to ensure drugs or biohazards aren’t brought into the country.

He’s responsible for the dive teams that search for those items and also has the right to board any vessel in the region.

Some people think the Harbourmaster helps bring ships into ports. That’s actually the role of pilots and Wright will occasionally assist pilots in that role, if invited.

Various codes and practices help ensure the commercial shipping part of Wright’s job is often smooth sailing. 

But he’s also accountable for every person who gets in a boat in Hawke’s Bay and, by association, ocean swimmers.

“Generally speaking our recreational boaties are really good,’’ said Wright. “The reality is that no-one gets up in the morning and thinks ‘you know what I’m going to do today? I’m going to go out and die.’ No-one thinks that way.

“So they try to be safe but sometimes it’s a lack of awareness, sometimes it’s an underestimation of what could happen, sometimes it’s not being quite familiar with the area you’re going to, so there’s a lot of things that come into it.

“But, generally speaking, nobody wants to go out and have a bad day. They want to go out, have a bit of fun, catch some fish and tell their mates. “It’s about engaging with them and educating them with regard to what really can happen and, if things go wrong, how quickly they can go wrong.’’

Public Interest Journalism funded NZ On Air


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