Jet boat operator faces safety fines

By Edward Gay APNZ

A Bay of Islands jet boat operator is facing a fine of more than $100,000 after three women had their backs broken during high-speed jet boat rides.

Lawyers for the InterCity Group (ICG) company which owns Excitor III appeared at the Auckland District Court yesterday after the company previously pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to take all practical steps to ensure their employee's actions did not harm anyone.

The court heard how Aucklander Petula Patey and her friend Amanda Lee were holidaying in the Bay of Islands after the wedding of Mrs Patey's daughter.

The pair went on a jetboat ride on January 12 last year to see the Hole in the Rock.

In her victim impact statement, Mrs Patey said she was told to sit in the back of the boat before they hit two big waves.

Mrs Patey said she became airborne on both occasions and felt a piercing pain in her back.

"The pain was like nothing I had experienced before."

She said other passengers were screaming at the skipper to stop the boat.

Mrs Patey said her back was broken and an MRI scan showed that she was lucky not to be paralysed.

She spent the next four months either lying in bed or on a sofa and has been told that she is likely to have pain in her back for the rest of her life. Her friend Ms Lee, who lives in London, said her back was also broken.

In her statement, read to the court by her lawyer Hamish Peart, Ms Lee said the accident ruined her trip to New Zealand.

"The trauma and emotional toll taken on me has been devastating."

ICG is also being sentenced in relation to a second incident two months later when Brisbane health worker Jan Phillips had vertebra in her back broken.

In her statement, also read by Mr Peart, she said she had every reason to believe the boat ride was safe.

"It seems the company had every opportunity to rectify previous safety problems on this boat and did not do so, choosing to risk major harm to customers like myself for profit."

InterCity Group lawyer Rob Latton said that was "not the case at all".

The company last Thursday apologised to the victims and paid $33,000 in reparations to Ms Lee and Ms Phillips. Mrs Patey was paid $44,000.

Maritime New Zealand prosecutor Alysha McClintock said the authority was seeking a fine of between $70,000 and $80,000 for the first incident. She said the second incident deserved a fine of between $100,000 and $120,000.

Ms McClintock said one of the company's skippers had raised concerns about the Excitor III before the January incident.

"So it is clear that a safety issue was brought to the company's attention and nothing was done about it."

Ms McClintock quoted from the skipper's evidence which said: "I brought it up, nothing happened and someone got hurt."

Mr Latton said the skipper also commented that he did not think his concerns were serious enough to stop the operation of the boat. He said his client had worked in conjunction with the company which helped design boats for the NZ Army and the SAS.

Mr Latton said ICG had trained their staff but that some "may not have driven to the conditions".

He said the company developed a code of conduct and, after the first incident, removed seating from the back of the boat and imposed speed limits. Judge Phil Gittos has reserved his decision.

- Northern Advocate

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