Skipper fined for waka capsize

15 September 2017

The skipper of a ceremonial waka, which capsized on Whakatane River bar in January last year, has been convicted and fined $1,350 for putting his five crew in unnecessary danger.

The Nukutaiao
Maritime NZ © 2017

Maritime NZ charged Clarence Takirirangi Smith under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 with operating a ship in a manner which caused unnecessary danger or risk to other people or property. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced in Wellington District Court yesterday.

Maritime NZ Central Compliance Manager Pelin Davison says the verdict is a reminder to the skippers of any vessels that they are responsible for the safety of everybody on-board.

“Bar crossings are notoriously dangerous. If in doubt do not cross, and always check with the harbourmaster or Coastguard for local conditions before getting anywhere near the swells around river and harbour entrances,” she says.

The Court heard that Dr Smith was skippering an 11-metre catamaran-style waka, with twin narrow beamed hulls and two masts, on a journey up the east coast of the North Island last January, with five other crew. The vessel, Nukutaiao, operated under sail, but could also be powered by two 20 horsepower outboard engines.

The group was attempting to enter Whakatane harbour over its narrow bar at high tide early on the morning of January 22, when it capsized with the six men tossed overboard.

The harbourmaster had ruled the bar unworkable the day before, and there was still a two metre swell when the waka crew attempted to cross. The Nukutaiao did not have enough speed to stay ahead of the breaking water and was upended while surfing down one wave. Fortunately early-morning surfers on shore were able to paddle out and help the crew to safety, with one man retrieved by Coastguard. The waka was salvaged with broken masts and other damage.

Ms Davison says the sentence is a timely reminder, with the recreational boating season about to start, that skippers must:

  • Check the weather and conditions
  • ensure crew wear lifejackets where appropriate - especially in times of heightened danger like bar crossings
  • prep their boat, and check it is fit for the activity intended
  • make sure they take two forms of waterproof communications, like VHF radio and an emergency rescue beacon
  • know the rules on the water
  • and, if in doubt, don’t cross a bar.

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