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Maritime NZ - Thrill Ride Prosecutions

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11.05.2012

Maritime New Zealand - High Speed Operators Sentenced

A high speed vessel operator's failure to investigate and address the causes of a series of serious back injuries to passengers has earned it a conviction, fines and reparation totalling $270,000, following a prosecution by Maritime New Zealand (MNZ).

Intercity Group (NZ) Limited, owners of the Paihia-based high speed vessel Excitor III, was today sentenced in the Auckland District Court after earlier admitting two separate but identical charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act (HSEA), relating to incidents in the Bay of Islands on 12 January and 22 March 2011 respectively.

The two charges, both under sections 15 and 50 of the HSEA of “failing to take all practicable steps to ensure no action or inaction of any employee at work harmed any other person” were brought by MNZ after an investigation into the two separate incidents, in which passengers suffered serious spinal fractures during trips to the Hole in the Rock. In the 12 January incident, two female passengers at the rear of the vessel suffered fractured vertebrae after hitting large waves, while another female passenger suffered a fractured vertebra in similar circumstances on 22 March.

Intercity Group was today convicted and fined $50,000 for the first charge, and $70,000 for the second charge. Two of the victims were awarded $45,000 in reparation each, while the third, who suffered the most serious injuries, was awarded $60,000.

MNZ Maritime Investigator Bruce McLaren said the most serious aspect of the offending in both cases was the company’s failure to react to concerns raised by passengers and staff, and to stop its operation in order to fully investigate the causes of the injuries.

“Despite at least four similar incidents between January and March 2011, including the two serious injury incidents investigated by MNZ, the company did not stop its operation to investigate what might be causing people to get hurt.

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“In addition, even though the Excitor III was a new vessel, the company did not respond to concerns raised by passengers and one of its own skippers about the movement of the vessel. And, despite having clear knowledge of the kind of forces the vessel would be subject to, it did not take adequate steps to ensure its drivers were aware of driving the vessel appropriately to these conditions.”

MNZ subsequently suspended the vessel from operating following the 22 March incident.

“The responsible course of action for Intercity following the first incident should have been to take the vessel off the water and keep it off the water, until such time as testing showed that the problem had been identified and properly controlled,” Mr McLaren said.

“It’s a serious reminder to all operators of all high speed vessels and ‘extreme’ type thrill rides that they must continually be evaluating and adapting their safety systems and operating procedures to ensure they evolve alongside changes to their operation.”

Meanwhile, in separate prosecutions, MNZ has also laid charges against Seafort Holdings Ltd and Richard John Prentice, operators of the high speed vessel Mack Attack, following separate incidents in December 2010 and January 2011 respectively. Seafort Holdings Ltd will be sentenced on two charges under the HSEA this afternoon.

Mr McLaren said an extensive amount of work by MNZ had gone into working with operators of high speed vessels to ensure safety, and this work was ongoing.

A second high speed vessel operator charged after a passenger received serious back injuries has been sentenced in the Auckland District Court this afternoon, following a prosecution by Maritime New Zealand (MNZ).

Seafort Holdings Ltd, the operator of the Bay of Islands-based high speed vessel Mack Attack, was charged after an incident on 21 December 2010 when a female passenger was thrown into the air during a thrill ride in Paihia and suffered serious spinal injuries.

Seafort pleaded guilty to two charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act (HSEA):

  -  under sections 15 and 50 of the HSEA, failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of any employee while at work harmed any other person

  -  under sections 25 and 50 of the HSEA, failing to notify the Director of MNZ of the occurrence of serious harm as soon as possible after the occurrence became known

Today, Seafort was convicted and fined $20,000 for the first charge and $10,000 for the second charge. The company was also ordered to pay the victim $90,000 in reparations.

The sentencing followed the sentencing of Intercity Group (NZ) Ltd on similar charges earlier today.

MNZ has also charged the owner of Mack Attack, Richard John Prentice, in relation to a separate, close quarters incident on 5 January 2011. Mr Prentice has pleaded not guilty to the charge. His next appearance is set down for 27 July in the Kaikohe District Court.

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