The Fullers Group was taken to court for a second time after the Kea ferry again collided with a wharf, causing one passenger to suffer a serious brain injury. Sam Hurley has followed the case.

New Zealand's largest public ferry operator has been ordered to pay $155,000 in reparations and a fine after another incident and prosecution involving one of its catamarans.

It comes after the Fullers Group was taken to court by Maritime New Zealand for a second time after the Kea again collided with Devonport's Victoria Wharf in November 2017.

The company pleaded guilty in July last year to failing to comply with a duty that exposed an individual to risk of death or serious injury under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The charge carried a maximum penalty of a $1.5 million fine.


After reserving her decision on a sentence following a hearing in December, Judge Nicola Mathers today ordered a series of payments and a significant fine, including a first for a maritime case in New Zealand.

Fullers was ordered to pay $68,336 in reparations to two of the four injured passengers, one of whom suffered serious head injuries. The company was also ordered to pay a fine of $86,159 and court costs of $19,765.

And in a first for a maritime case, the judge also made a work health and safety project order. The order requires Fullers to lead work for its own crews and also for other maritime operators to improve safety.

It is estimated that the project will cost Fullers $300,750, Maritime NZ said in a statement.

Fullers had sought the project order and Maritime NZ agreed that one was appropriate in the circumstances. It requires Fullers to engage with various industry participants and train between 150 and 200 people across the sector to facilitate health and safety learning teams.

The teams will work through business practices, near misses, and accidents to change how work is done so it is safer, Maritime NZ said.

Fullers is also required to develop a competency framework for those learning teams and undertake a case study on their use in the maritime Industry. At the conclusion of the project, Fullers is required to make the resources it has developed, and the case study, available for free.

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In a statement today, Maritime NZ Northern Region compliance manager, Neil Rowarth, said a project order looks to the future by imposing obligations on an offender under the Health and Safety at Work Act to carry out a project that will improve work health and safety.

"There is a strong message here that maritime operators, particularly those transporting members of the public, have a significant responsibility for public safety," Rowarth said.

"They must have good training in place for their crew and other staff, and must have ways of working that help keep people safe. If they do not, then they will be held to account.

"Work health and safety project orders are a new tool that courts can use to hold operators to account and to improve safety. This will be watched closely by the maritime industry."

If a project order is not carried out as directed by the court, the company can be prosecuted for failing to comply, which could result in a fine of up to $250,000. The court could also revisit the sentence.

Fullers chief executive Mike Horne has earlier told the Herald safety is the company's "top priority, and a core value across our operation".

He said Fullers planned to invest $1.2m in vessel training and $350,000 in crew training last year alone.

Fullers CEO Mike Horne says safety is the company's top priority. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Fullers CEO Mike Horne says safety is the company's top priority. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Fullers' offending for the 2017 crash was for its failures for a lack of adequate off-service training for the ferry's trainee master and for not enough warning signs and advice for its passengers during berthing.

But Fullers' legal team has said in court that even if more training and warnings were in place it "could not have avoided the hazard entirely".

After the crash the Kea reintroduced audio warnings for passengers as the vessel reaches the end of a voyage.

Details outlining the 2017 incident, the latest of several involving the troubled Kea, were earlier revealed by the Herald, including how one victim suffered devastating head injuries.

The incident occurred on the night of November 9, 2017, as the Kea sailed from Auckland's CBD for the routine trip to Devonport's Victoria Wharf with 52 passengers.

But during the final stages of its voyage the more than 30-year-old ferry veered suddenly to starboard and hit the pier.

The collision jolted the standing passengers waiting to disembark and threw one woman from the top of a stairwell.

She hit her head on the deck, was knocked unconscious and suffered head trauma, brain bleeding, and a fractured rib.

Since the crash, she has been plagued by a lung infection, headaches, fatigue, memory lapses, persistent cognitive difficulties and has been unable to return to work.

After the Herald's reporting of the case another victim also came forward, having suffered a concussion and shoulder injury in the crash.

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The Kea was being helmed by veteran skipper but trainee Kea master Alan Schofield that night. He was under the supervision of the highly experienced operator Paul Slater, court documents show.

The 2017 crash involved the same ferry and same wharf which also saw Fullers convicted, fined nearly $40,000 and ordered to pay almost $100,000 to victims of a February 2015 incident.

After the 2015 crash - due to a system failure - Fullers decided only retrained and experienced masters would operate the ferry due to its design flaws, which include lower visibility during the final stages of an approach.

Despite this, Schofield had only 5-1/2 hours of berthing training while the Kea was not in service, the court earlier heard, which was less than masters received during retraining.

Time had been allocated for Schofield, specifically off-run berthing, but both he and Slater say they were under pressure from Fullers to complete their training quickly.

When Schofield lined the Kea up with the Devonport wharf after 9pm on November 9, Slater believed it was perfect and at the correct speed, court papers obtained by the Herald read.

Neither, however, were able to react in time before the ferry crashed.

The 2017 incident remains the result of "reasons unknown", the court has heard.

Another incident, in May 2009, also saw the Kea helmed by a trainee master hit with the Devonport wharf, causing a passenger to fall down the stairs and be knocked unconscious.

Fullers has said it was decommissioning the Kea, which carried 1.8 million passengers in 2017.