Captain of Panama-flagged bulk vessel prosecuted over unsafe work practices

4 April 2019
boat in harbour
Maritime NZ ©2019
Spinnaker SW

Maritime NZ brought charges against Jianxi Chen, Captain of the Panama-flagged bulk carrier Spinnaker SW on Friday 29 March 2019.

Captain Chen was charged with permitting dangerous activity involving ships or maritime products under section 65(2) of the Maritime Transport Act 1994.

Captain Chen permitted crew to load a cargo of logs onto the Spinnaker SW, without the use of personal protective equipment or systems to prevent falls from height, which caused unnecessary danger or risk to persons working on the Spinnaker SW.

Chen pleaded guilty to the offence and was sentenced before Judge Roberts in the District Court at Timaru. He received a fine of $6,000.

Maritime NZ Acting Regional Compliance Manager (Southern) Domonic Venz said, “We are pleased with today’s outcome in court, our role is to ensure that all maritime activities are carried out safely.”

The summary of facts stated that Maritime NZ detained the Panama-flagged bulk carrier Spinnaker SW on 25 March 2019, at Bluff. The crew were working at height without any fall protection in place.

A Maritime Officer became aware of potential safety issues onboard the ship whilst it was loading logs. The Maritime Officer inspected the vessel’s Safety Management System (SMS) and personal protective equipment (PPE).  The SMS required crew working at height to wear PPE.  The PPE itself was in poor condition.  As a result, the Maritime Officer imposed conditions on the vessel requiring operations to be conducted in accordance with the SMS. 

This direction was breached by the Captain, and crew aboard the vessel continued to work at height without PPE.

Mr Venz said, “It was disappointing to find that on 26 March 2019 the crew on the vessel were still working at height without safety lines or harnesses. The Maritime Officer then took immediate action escalating previous compliance actions and detained the vessel to further investigate the issues.”

On 27 March 2019 a Port State Control Officer inspected the vessel and found deficiencies in their practices. The ship was further detained under the Maritime Transport Act section 55. The ship Captain and other witnesses were interviewed by a Maritime Officer as part of the investigation into alleged on-going safety breaches.

Maritime NZ undertook a full Port State Control inspection of the Spinnaker SW as a result of initial investigations.

On Saturday, 30 March 2019, the ship passed the independent International Safety Management (ISM) audit and the port State Control officer released the vessel. Now that the court case has finished the vessel can leave port.

Information about the detention has been shared with other Asia-Pacific countries’ maritime authorities as part of the regional and international Port State Control (PSC) system that operates in our region under an agreement known as the “Tokyo MOU”.

Mr Venz said, “We routinely communicate our concerns about ship operators appropriately through a ship’s flag state authority.”

The PSC system ensures foreign ships coming to ports can be inspected to ensure they comply with minimum safety, security and environmental protection requirements set down in international conventions.


The Tokyo MOU is an agreement between 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific Region. Its purpose is to help improve maritime safety. It does that by coordinating the gathering and sharing of PSC information to identify ships and operators that break the rules or are a risk. New Zealand was a founding member of the MOU and serves a leadership role in the organisation, which is based in Tokyo, Japan. Similar MOU’s are in place in other regions around the world to ensure global coverage.

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