Passenger safety paramount - Maritime NZ

13 December 2016

The prosecution of a passenger vessel operator and skipper, in relation to three women injured while on board the vessel, sends a reminder to everyone that the safety of those onboard is paramount, says Maritime NZ.

The master and crew should have made sure passengers on the bow were safe, and the skipper should have understood the weather and sea conditions and taken appropriate steps to make sure that passengers were not harmed, says Neil Rowarth, the Northern Regional Compliance Manager for Maritime NZ.

Explore Group Limited was fined $35,000 and ordered to pay $78,000 in reparations after pleading guilty to failing as an employer to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of any employee while at work harms any other person, under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. The vessel’s Master, Richard Smith, also admitted a charge under the same Act of failing to take all practicable steps as an employee, and was fined $15,000.

A total 22 passengers and three crew were onboard the 24-metre catamaran Discovery 5 when it headed to Waiheke Island in rough conditions on September 1 last year. The skipper and a crewman were seated at the helm with limited visibility of passengers standing on the bow – some of whom had ventured outside as they were feeling seasick.

As Discovery 5 was nearing where a right-hand turn was necessary to enter the bay, the Master announced over the PA system that passengers should be seated or hold on. Those on the bow could only partly hear, and the turn was made within seconds of the announcement.

When the catamaran hit a large wave, one woman flew up in the air and landed on her left hip, resulting in three fractures to her thigh bone. Another victim landed heavily on her knees, fracturing a kneecap; while a third landed on the deck, and when the vessel hit a second big wave, she then tumbled to the bottom of a stairwell. This woman suffered fractures to her left hand.

Mr Rowarth says the crew failed to follow the vessel’s operating procedures and close the bow area when the wave height exceeded 1.5 metres.

“The operator did not ensure there was clear communication between the master and crew, and that crew communicated properly with passengers. The location of passengers needed to be monitored given the rough weather.”

Mr Rowarth says it is also important that anyone skippering a passenger vessel understands properly the sea and weather conditions – in this case the ebb tide working against the north-east winds at the entrance of the bay.

“The safety of passengers is paramount, and vessels must be operated in a manner suitable for the conditions - to ensure those onboard return to shore unharmed.”

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