Dinghy prosecution welcomed

13 June 2007

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) welcomes the conviction of a Hawkes Bay man after his ill-equipped dinghy sank and a passenger drowned near Clive in December 2005.

Sapo Muliipu of Hastings was yesterday found guilty by a jury in the Napier District Court on a charge of operating the dinghy “in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk”, after it capsized and his friend Tafaofale Fitimase, 32, drowned near the Clive River Mouth around midnight on 17 December 2005.  The pair had been checking fishing nets when the dinghy began to take on water and was swept out to sea before sinking. The dinghy had no life jackets or other safety equipment, and Mr Fitimase could not swim and had no boating experience. Muliipu was aware his friend could not swim and was unfamiliar with boats.

“While our thoughts are with Mr Fitmase’s family, the real tragedy of this situation – and many others like it – is that it could have been so easily avoided, had life jackets been provided and worn in the first place,” says Jim Lott, MNZ’s Manager of Recreational Boating and an experienced accident investigator. “In my opinion, had Mr Fitimase been provided with a life jacket, and worn it, he would have survived.

“Maritime New Zealand welcomes this conviction, which is a stark reminder that anyone in charge of any pleasure boat, no matter how small, must provide adequate life jackets for all those on board.”

In addition to carrying no flares, communication equipment, lifejackets or other basic safety gear, Mr Lott said Muliipu’s operation of the dinghy at night in an area which was prone to fast currents and waves breaking over the river’s sandbar was irresponsible.

“Even the simple act of carrying a cellphone in a sealed plastic bag can provide a means of calling for help in many areas if people get into difficulty.”

Mr Lott said a lifejacket was still one of the most effective means of staying alive in the water, as even treading water quickly led quickly to fatigue. The human body also rapidly lost heat in water temperatures such as those at the time of the accident (around 16 degrees centigrade).

Sentencing is due on 2 July.

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