Cruise ship L’Austral grounding – fines total $100,000

2 October 2018

A French cruise company and ship’s Master have been fined $70,000 and $30,000 respectively for endangering human life and entering a prohibited zone following an incident in the remote New Zealand Subantarctic islands.

French company Compagnie du Ponant and Captain Regis Daumesnil, a French citizen, were sentenced today in the Wellington District Court. They had pleaded guilty to charges following the 9 January 2017 grounding of the cruise ship L’Austral on an uncharted rock at the Snares Islands.

Both Maritime NZ and the Department of Conservation (DOC) brought charges against Captain Daumesnil, with DOC also prosecuting the company.

Charges were filed against Captain Daumesnil under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 for causing unnecessary danger or risk to the people on board, and against both Captain Daumesnil and the company under the Resource Management Act 1991 for entering a 300m exclusion zone around the Islands.

The Summaries of Fact stated L’Austral had inadequate “passage plans” and failed to monitor the ship’s position near hazards to navigation. As a result of the grounding the vessel’s hull was punctured in three places. Rather than return to Bluff, the nearest port, Captain Daumesnil made the decision to continue on the cruise schedule to the Auckland Islands, a further 285km south.

There were 356 passengers and crew onboard.

DOC Southern South Island Operations Director, Aaron Fleming, says it was “pure good luck we did not have a potential environmental disaster” resulting from the incident.

“The Snares Islands are one of the jewels of our conservation estate and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. DOC expects all visitors to respect and comply with the regulations which are in place to protect and preserve this pristine environment. They are a unique, unspoiled, but extremely sensitive site that is free of pollution and introduced pests and predators.

“More than 5 million birds, as well as sea lions, and whales breed there.”

Maritime NZ Southern Regional Compliance Manager, Mike Vredenburg, said this case could have ended in tragedy and is a graphic warning of why passage planning is mandatory in New Zealand and internationally.

Captain Daumesnil had an inadequate plan for sailing around North East Island, no plan at all for drifting close to shore while recovering boats, did not identify areas of danger, and did not monitor that the ship remained in safe water.

“His ship grounded, was holed and everyone on board was endangered. Captain Daumesnil then made the situation worse by sailing further away, from any possible help, should it have been needed.”

Ponant was fined $70,000 and Captain Daumesnil was fined $20,000 on one charge each under the Resource Management Act.

In arriving at the final sentences, the Court took account of the defendants’ guilty pleas and other personal mitigation factors – for Ponant this included its previous safety record and good character and for Captain Daumesnil the professional consequences that have resulted from the incident.

Captain Daumesnil was fined $5,000 on each of two charges under the Maritime Transport Act.

The Court has ordered that 90 per cent of the fine laid under the Resource Management Act charges be awarded to DOC, on behalf of the Minister of Conservation, as the local authority for the Subantarctic Islands. DOC intends to use those funds towards planning for its Auckland Islands pest eradication project.

Background – summary of the incident

L’Austral had arrived at the Snares Islands on 9 January 2017. That morning passengers were unloaded into small inflatable boats for permitted excursions off the east coast of North-East Island.

At 12.45pm the passengers came back onboard and L’Austral then sailed to South Bay to decide if more excursions could be made that afternoon.

On reaching South Bay it was decided no further passenger excursions would take place due to deteriorating weather.

Recovery of the inflatable boats began and Captain Daumesnil allowed the vessel to drift under manual control, entering the exclusion zone, coming at its closest to 162 metres from the shore.

At about 3.08pm the stern of L’Austral grounded on an uncharted rock 220 metres from shore. Review of the vessel’s paper chart, electronic chart display and GPS positions show that at the time of the grounding the vessel was being navigated without following any passage plan.

Immediately after the grounding alarms sounded, indicating water had entered the hull. Captain Daumesnil directed the area that had been holed to be isolated and checks made around it.

It was confirmed no water had entered the oil sludge tank, fuel tanks, engine room or other spaces around the part of the hull that had been damaged.

Captain Daumesnil then decided to sail 154 nautical miles (285km) further south to Enderby Island to continue the cruise as scheduled. He reported the incident to French, but not New Zealand, authorities.

The nearest port to the Snares Islands is Bluff, 120 nautical miles (220km) north, which itself is a considerable distance over ocean should a search and rescue operation have been needed.

L’Austral continued its cruise and returned to Bluff on January 12. Divers were contracted to inspect the damage and temporary repairs were carried out.

On January 13, Maritime NZ Maritime Officers carried out a regular Port State Control inspection of the ship. They became aware of the grounding, an investigation began and when it was discovered L’Austral had also entered an environmental exclusion zone DOC was advised and joined the investigation.

Maritime NZ "Compliance Operating Model"

Maritime NZ’s compliance work includes a range of actions – with a heavy focus on supporting and encouraging safety and environmental protection through information and education. It also includes audits and inspections, targeted campaigns, investigations and, in some cases, prosecutions.

We will choose the most appropriate intervention for the issue involved – the right tool at the right time. The Model guides those decisions.

This case highlighted the crucial importance of passage planning for all parts of a voyage. Having no plans and inadequate plans for different parts of L’Austral’s voyage endangered the lives of 356 people and a pristine, UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Compliance Operating Model is publically available on the Maritime NZ website.

Summary of 2017/18 statistics:

  • 1,035 notifications received and assessed
  • 461 audits of New Zealand maritime operators
  • 257 safety and security inspections of foreign ships
  • two national, targeted, health and safety inspection campaigns, one focusing on stevedores and the other on maritime operators with higher risk operations
  • 128 investigations
  • 18 prosecutions.

Media contacts

Maritime NZ, 24/7 media phone 04 499 7318, media@maritimenz.govt.nz

Department of Conservation, Bridget Railton, 027 532 0498, brailton@doc.govt.nz

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