The laying of a manslaughter charge against the skipper of a boat that overturned and left a passenger dead is evidence police are willing to launch harsher prosecutions, a law expert says.

Taranaki police arrested and charged a 58-year-old Waitara man yesterday over the death of Erka Xu, who drowned when the four-metre inflatable boat the two were in capsized as the pair returned from a fishing trip in July.

Neither man was wearing a lifejacket, authorities said.

The boat tipped over crossing the Waitara River bar and police allege the skipper didn't take all reasonable safety precautions required.


University of Auckland associate law professor Bill Hodge said police must have decided the skipper's actions were sufficiently negligent to charge him under the Crimes Act, as opposed to maritime legislation.

The boat tipped over while crossing the Waitara river bar. Photo / Jim Tucker
The boat tipped over while crossing the Waitara river bar. Photo / Jim Tucker

"I suspect it's for educational value, deterrent value and saying to the victim's family 'we take the life of your family member seriously'," Dr Hodge said, adding such an approach was appropriate.

"It's becoming increasingly common for police to use heavy artillery. When they want to make a serious statement, instead of using transport legislation, they'll use the Crimes Act."

Dr Hodge said other similar examples would be charging the driver of a car if someone died because of a crash, or if a jetski rider hit and killed someone in the water.

"Using the Crimes Act is increasingly common for cases of negligent use of something that could kill someone when it actually did kill someone.

"This fits in a pattern and they must have decided there was an extraordinary circumstance taking it out of the ordinary negligence of operating a boat. There must have been a pretty high level of negligence or reckless use of the boat."