Easy Rider widow held partly responsible

The Easy Rider sank in Foveaux Strait killing eight people. Photo / Supplied
The Easy Rider sank in Foveaux Strait killing eight people. Photo / Supplied

The widow of the skipper at the helm of the Easy Rider when it sank in the Foveaux Strait in 2012, claiming eight lives, has been held partly responsible for its sinking, according to a court ruling out today.

The boat, which was skippered by Rewai Karetai, who did not hold a current skipper's certificate, was taking six passengers off at the Muttonbird Islands before heading out on a commercial fishing trip when the accident happened.

Mr Karetai's widow, Gloria Davis, the sole director of AZ1 Enterprises which owned Easy Rider, denied 10 Maritime New Zealand charges against herself or her company to do with the safe operation of the vessel.

During the trial earlier this year at Invercargill District Court, the Crown called the sinking a "preventable maritime tragedy''.

Today, Judge John Strettell has released his reserved decision which ruled in Maritime Mew Zealand's favour.

The judgement said that since Davis retained a position of authority within the company, she was responsible for the Easy Rider being used by an unqualified operator, which meant it had failed its safety audit.

It said she had an obligation to inquire as to who was skippering the boat, and how it passed its safety audit.

But given she failed to do so, either by knowing it had failed the safety audit, or by consciously declining to make inquiries because she was ``concerned as to the possible result''.

``The consequences of which was that Easy Rider put to sea without having passed its safety audit,'' Judge Strettell concluded.

He rejected arguments that the fault and accountability should lie solely with Mr Karetai as the physical operator of the boat, saying that more than one person can be an operator, and legally accountable for the company and the operation of the boat.

It also found that Davis failed ``to take all practicable steps``to ensure no contractor or subcontractor were placed in a harmful position while working on board the vessel.

And as as director of the company, she permitted it to be operated in a manner which caused unnecessary danger or risk to those on board.

Judge Strettell said that despite Davis, and the company, having responsibility, he added: ``That is not to say that the court does not have considerable sympathy with Ms Davis and the situation she found herself in, but that is an issue properly to be considered and dealt with at sentencing.''

A sentencing date has not yet been confirmed.

Only one person survived the Easy Rider tragedy in March 2012.

Dallas Reedy, 45, spent 18 hours in the water, clinging to an emptied petrol container, before being rescued.

The bodies of Shane Ronald Topi, 29, Boe Taikawa Gillies, 28, John Henry Karetai, 58, and Peter Glen Pekamu-Bloxham, 53, were recovered.

But the bodies of Mr Karetai, 47, Paul Jason Fowler-Karetai, 40, David George Fowler, 50, and Odin Nirvana Karetai, 7, have never been never found.

Maritime New Zealand welcomed the guilty verdicts, with director Keith Manch saying they should send a strong message to operators in the fishing industry.

``The decision to prosecute Ms Davis was not taken lightly, given she has already suffered greatly as a result of the incident,'' he said.

``However, the sinking of the Easy Rider was the worst maritime disaster, in terms of loss of life, since the sinking of the Wahine. As such, it was very important that action was taken that reflected the extent of harm - the loss of eight lives - and the very real responsibilities of those operating in the maritime sector.''

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Gloria Davis was found guilty of the following charges: Section 68(2) Maritime Transport Act 1994

In that she operated the ship ``Easy Rider'' knowing that a current maritime document namely a master holding a skippers certificate was required before it could be lawfully operated and knowing that the appropriate skipper's certificate was not held.

Section 65(2)(a) Maritime Transport Act 1994 and s66 Crimes Act 1961

In that she caused or permitted the ship ``Easy Rider'' to be operated in a manner which caused unnecessary danger or risk to the persons on board.

Section 50(1)(a), s56(1) & s18 Health & Safety in Employment Act 1992

In that she as a director of AZ1 Enterprises Ltd acquiesced or participated in the failure of that company as principal to take all practicable steps to ensure that no contractor or subcontractor was harmed while doing work on board ``Easy Rider'' that he was engaged to do.

AZ1 Enterprises Limited was found guilty of the following charges: Section 68(2)(a) Maritime Transport Act 1994

In that it operated the ship ``Easy Rider'' knowing that a current maritime document namely a master holding a skippers certificate was required before it could be lawfully operated and knowing that the appropriate skipper's certificate was not held.

Section 65(2)(a) Maritime Transport Act 1994

In that it caused or permitted the ship ``Easy Rider'' to be operated in a manner which caused unnecessary danger or risk to the persons on board.

Section 50(1) & s18 (1)(b) Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992

In that as principal it failed to take all practicable steps to ensure that no contractor or subcontractor was harmed while doing work on board ``Easy Rider'' that he was engaged to do.

- Otago Daily Times

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