Serious consequences of distraction highlighted in ferry collision case

02 July 2024

The prosecution of a recreational boat skipper highlights the serious consequences that can result from distraction while travelling at speed on the water.

On 2 July 2024, the District Court at Auckland gave its reserved sentencing decision for the skipper of the 9.8-metre powerboat Onepoto, James Thomson. This followed a sentencing hearing, two weeks prior, on 17 June, 2024, on one charge under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 relating to the boat’s collision with the Waitere ferry near Russell on 13 April 2023.

The collision caused significant damage to the Waitere ferry, and to people on board. The ferry’s skipper suffered serious injuries when the Onepoto’s bow penetrated the ferry’s wheelhouse. The Waitere had 19 passengers on board, some of whom received less serious injuries.

Mr Thomson explained he was distracted by an engine alarm that had sounded from the display unit located next to the helm and he failed to see the Waitere approaching from his starboard side. He was travelling in open waters at around 20.5 knots at the time.

Immediately after the collision Mr Thomson took steps to assist, including radioing emergency services and retrieving one of the ferry passengers who went overboard. He cooperated with Maritime NZ’s investigation and pleaded guilty to one charge under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 for operating the Onepoto in a manner that caused unnecessary danger.

Maritime New Zealand’s Manager of General Regulatory Operations in the Far North, Jason Lunjevich, said this was a serious incident that could have been avoided.

"Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the skipper of the Waitere and his loved ones, and to other victims affected by this incident," Mr Lunjevich said. "Had the Onepoto skipper given full attention to keeping a look out for other vessels and hazards, and had he been traveling at a safe speed while dealing with the alarm, this incident and the injuries sustained from it could have been avoided.

"The message for other skippers is, it is your responsibility to stay alert for other boats, craft, swimmers and hazards. Staying alert and keeping a look out prevents collisions and the consequences that they can cause."

Mr Lunjevich acknowledged Mr Thomson expressed remorse, and accepted responsibility for the incident by cooperating with the investigation and pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.

Mr Lunjevich also praised the local emergency services, harbour master, commercial maritime operators and bystanders who responded to the incident, all who were instrumental in the safe and timely recovery of ferry passengers.

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