Multiple watchkeeping related failures identified in 2020 vessel grounding

30 August 2023

The dangers of watchkeeping failures are being yet again highlighted following the 2020 grounding of a commercial vessel.

Watchkeeping is a crucial job for crews on vessels. Anyone tasked to keep-watch has to look out for risks and potential hazards, to ensure the vessel does not ground or hit other boats or other objects in the water.

All vessels are legally required to keep watch at all times.

The skipper of the Sidina, Ralph James and the head of the fishing company’s operational planning, Nino D’Esposito were last week sentenced in the Napier District Court, for their parts in the grounding of the vessel along the coast of Chatham Island’s in December 2020.

It grounded after the skipper fell asleep, he was then woken by the impact of it grounding.

Maritime NZ’s John Drury says ensuring watchkeeping is adequately managed and staffed is a significant priority for Maritime NZ.

“Every year we see several incidents relating to vessels failing to properly keep-watch. These can result in collisions and groundings.

“The skipper needs to ensure proper watch is kept at all times, and that the vessel is operated within the rules, including having the correct number of personnel working while at sea.  

“Depending on the collision or grounding, these incidents have the potential to put those on the vessel, in the water or other boats at risk of serious injuries or death.

“There is also the potential for a vessel to cause environmental issues through a grounding or collision.

 “A boat could spill oil or other potentially hazardous substances into the water,” John Drury says.

A key role on any commercial operation and in turn its management, is to ensure there are appropriate resources and procedures to manage fatigue, make sure the crewing levels are correct and appropriate for the journey being undertaken. Management also need to understand their operating procedures.

“As the person with oversight of the work, Mr D’Esposito did not correctly manage the personnel resourcing for the vessel, did not ensure there was oversight and management of the risks of fatigue, and as a result left the crew vulnerable to an incident such as what occurred.

“Ensuring the correct people with the right skills and qualifications are on-board vessels is hugely important when undertaking commercial operations such as what the Sidina was doing when it grounded.

 “It is disappointing these obligations were not given the focus they required,” John Drury says.

After the vessel grounded, it had to be towed back to Napier to be repaired.

Editor’s Note:

Ralph James was sentenced under S65 of the Maritime Transport Act 1994 and fined $4,125.  


Nino D’Esposito was sentenced under S48 charge of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, for a breach of duty as an officer (at the time he was working as a consultant, leading the company’s operational planning). He was fined $11,900.

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