Fishing company Talley's Group fined over decapitation of worker

Talley Group pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work. Photo / File
Talley Group pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work. Photo / File

Nelson-based fishing company Talley's Group has been fined $73,520 and ordered to pay $21,000 reparations to the family of a man who was decapitated after a broken rope snapped back while hauling in a net full of tuna.

Leighton Muir, 24, died aboard the Capt MJ Souza when the vessel was fishing in the Kiribati Exclusive Economic Zone, on July 2014.

Talley Group pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work, when sentenced in Nelson District Court today.

The court was told that a 50mm safety rope connected to a fishing net had previously snapped three weeks before Mr Muir died but it hadn't been replaced, despite a replacement rope being available on-board.

Instead, a knot had been tied in the rope and it continued to be used.

The cause of the breakage was not investigated by the company.

The rope then broke again, after it was put under increased strain by the failure of a strop on the net.

The failure of the strop is believed to have been the result of a poor splice, Maritime NZ said.

At the time of the incident, Mr Muir was working inside the "snap-back zone", an area of high-risk in the event of a rope breaking.

The danger of standing in the snap-back zone was highlighted in the vessel's hazards register.

Maritime New Zealand maritime compliance general manager Harry Hawthorn said this was a "horrific accident" which highlighted what should have been done to manage the risks involved in deep sea fishing.

"In this case, the rope had already broken once, but the reasons for that had not been considered. The rope had been repaired, not replaced, and it broke again. The dangers of the snap-back zone had been identified but crew were still required to work in that area.

Leighton Muir, 24, who was killed on the Capt MJ Souza after a broken rope snapped back while hauling in a net full of tuna in July 2014. Photo / Facebook
Leighton Muir, 24, who was killed on the Capt MJ Souza after a broken rope snapped back while hauling in a net full of tuna in July 2014. Photo / Facebook

"This is a tragic case which will live with the family of Leighton Muir forever," he said.

In 2015 Talley's was found guilty of the same charge after crewman Cain Adams died after falling 6.9 metres through an open hatch on the Capt MJ Souza, when the vessel was in port in Nelson.

The company was fined $48,000 and ordered to pay $35,000 in reparations.

Talley's general manager Tony Hazlett said the company's guilty plea recognised the fact that they were liable for the "acts of crewmen" during the course of their work.

In a statement from the company, blame was placed on crew members for not splicing the primary line correctly and failing to assess the adequacy of the rigging.

"Neither of these officers have worked for the company since Leighton's death and have both refused to return to New Zealand and cooperate with the investigation, company, or relevant authorities.

"By operation of law the company is ultimately and legally responsible for those failings by senior officers."

"After the accident, the safety rope that snapped (killing Leighton instantly) was discovered to have a latent defect leaving it with less than half its certified strength. Despite having a certified breaking strain of 55 tonnes, subsequent testing by the prosecutions expert confirmed that the coil of rope in question had an actual breaking strain of just 24 tonnes"

Mr Hazlett said the judge in sentencing found the actions of the bosun and captain "reprehensible".

"The company will continue to assess what options exist for them to be held to account."

Mr Hazlett said Mr Muir was a well-respected fisherman highly regarded by his colleagues.

"He remains deeply missed by all today and our thoughts remain with the Muir family for his tragic loss."

At the time of Mr Muir's death in 2014, his sister Krystle paid tribute to him on Facebook.

"Fly high Leigh. You lived one hell of a life, you did things most of us will never get to do. So proud of you. God I wish that smiling face was here with me."

- NZ Herald

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