The skipper of a powerboat that collided with the iconic Bay of Islands ferry, Waitere, has been charged, Maritime NZ announced.
The Waitere, better known as the Blue Ferry, sank on April 13 after a collision with a twin-engine recreational power boat that also left the ferry’s 77-year-old skipper, Bill Elliott, with critical head and spinal injuries.
The ferry was crowded at the time with school holiday visitors, some of whom received minor injuries in the crash which happened just minutes after it had departed Russell on its regular run to Paihia. It is believed that at least one passenger, possibly two, was thrown into the water.
The port side and wheelhouse of the wooden ferry disintegrated in the impact with broken wood strewn throughout the vessel.
Maritime NZ’s deputy chief executive regulatory operation Deb Despard said some damage occurred to the powerboat but no one on board at the time was injured.
Maritime NZ undertook what Despard said was a thorough investigation in response to the incident.
“Investigators carried out interviews, examined the scene, reviewed documents and gathered other relevant evidence connected to the incident.”
Their investigation was one of three into the collision - the others were being carried out by police and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC). However, police have said its investigation is Maritime NZ-led.
The TAIC investigation aims to establish the cause of the collision and prevent similar incidents happening again.
TAIC senior communications adviser Simon Pleasants said their investigation team had completed the large part of the collection of evidence and its analysis and were now writing a draft report that will go out for consultation with the people involved. However, it was too early to say when that would happen.
The investigation was initially expected to take around 18 months to complete.
Maritime NZ’s investigation led to one charge been filed in the Auckland District Court against the skipper of the powerboat.
Despard said the charge has been filed under section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act 1994. The act makes it an offence to operate a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk to any other person or property.
Maximum penalties imposed by the court against an individual include a fine of up to $10,000 or a prison term of up to one year.
As the matter is now before the courts, Maritime NZ cannot comment further.
The Elliott family declined to comment.
Karina Cooper is news director and covers breaking and general news for the Advocate.