$324,500 reparation after Tekapo kayak business neglected safety obligations

5 December 2016

Maritime NZ says the kayak hire operator sentenced to 200 hours community service and ordered to pay $324,500 over the deaths of two kayakers, on Lake Tekapo in September last year, neglected his safety obligations with tragic consequences.

Judge David Saunders said he would also have imposed, in addition, a fine of $70,000 but ultimately did not because of the defendant’s financial circumstances.

Harry Hawthorn, General Manager Maritime Compliance at Maritime NZ, said Ricky John Hartnett clearly did not comply with his responsibilities, and operated outside of the law.

Mr Hartnett (trading as Aquanorts), pleaded guilty to two charges laid by Maritime NZ:

  • Being a self-employed person, he failed to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction by him while at work harmed any other person (under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992),
  • Operating a ship without holding the appropriate current maritime document (under the Maritime Transport Act 1994).

He was sentenced to 200 hours community service, and ordered to pay reparations of $115,000 to each family of the students who died. Three students who were hospitalised will receive $15,500 each and the six others involved will receive $8,000 each.

Mr Hawthorn says “we feel that this outcome/result in court today provides reparation for the victims and holds this operator to account.”

On 25 September 2015, Mr Hartnett rented eight kayaks to 11 international students. Most were inexperienced kayakers. Weather conditions on Lake Tekapo deteriorated suddenly and five members of the group were tipped out of their kayaks by waves whipped up by high winds.

Two of the students died of hypothermia. Nine students were rescued, with three requiring treatment for extreme hypothermia after being in the lake for a prolonged period.

Mr Hawthorn says “this operator did not have adequate systems in place and did not react quickly enough. He ended up raising the alarm far too late, with tragic consequences.”

“The court outcome today sends a message to all operators that they must take their responsibilities seriously. Lives are at stake.” Mr Hawthorn says

“Mr Hartnett did not notify us he was in business and we didn’t receive any complaints or concerns about his kayaking operation.”

“The brief safety document Mr Hartnett did produce was suitable only for resort-style activities near to shore – not for the longer journeys some clients were making on this large, alpine lake.

“He did not enter into the Maritime Operator Safety System, as he should have done. If he was in MOSS there would have been regular audits to ensure that his safety system was, and remained, fit-for-purpose.

“This is a sad example that demonstrates what can happen if adequate systems and emergency plans aren’t in in place. People who want to know whether to use the services of an operator should ask what plans they have in place,” says Mr Hawthorn.

Under health and safety legislation (now the Health and Safety at Work Act) all businesses and operators are required to ensure they take all practicable steps to make sure people are safe.

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