Fullers has been ordered to pay nearly $100,000 to victims of a ferry crash and fined $40,000 after one of its faulty vessels slammed into an Auckland pier.
The largest public transport ferry operator in New Zealand was sentenced today at the Auckland District Court on one count of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of any employee harmed another person.
This morning's sentencing followed a lengthy litigation process after Maritime New Zealand, which was prosecuting the case, made several inquiries for the victims of the February 17, 2015 crash.
Fullers had already pleaded guilty to the charge on February 9 last year.
The incident occurred after the catamaran Kea, with 61 passengers, sailed from downtown Auckland to Devonport on what was supposed to be a routine 10.30am voyage.
However, the ferry collided with Devonport's Victoria Wharf at about 7 knots (about 13km/h), injuring dozens of its passengers and crew.
Longstanding and experienced vessel master Lane van der Linden was at the helm of the Kea on the day of the crash.
In an interview with Maritime NZ after the incident, he said that because of a faulty digital control system he began operating from the starboard wing station, before transferring to the central wheelhouse while crossing the Waitemata Harbour.
As the Kea neared the dry dock at the Devonport Naval Base, van der Linden transferred control of the vessel back to the starboard station.
However, as the ferry approached the wharf, the master discovered he had no response or control of the vessel's starboard thruster.
He attempted to regain control and turn the Kea back into open water, but the ferry was unable to make the manoeuvre and slammed into the wharf.
There was no warning issued before the crash for passengers to brace.
"The impact projected passengers and crew forwards," court documents obtained by the Herald read.
"The bench seating on the Kea's main deck was unsecured and toppled over, exacerbating the impact."
However, the court heard there were no relevant industry regulations requiring seating to be fixed to a ship which engages in voyages of less than 30 minutes.
Dozens of passengers and crew were injured in Kea's crash, with about 19 taken to North Shore Hospital.
One passenger, a 39-year-old pregnant nurse, was returning home from work.
"I suddenly realised we hadn't slowed down," she said in her victim impact statement.
"I thought, 'flip, we're going to hit!' And it was just as I'd finished that thought that we hit."
The woman was thrown to the floor, landing next to an old man, also violently shunted from his seat.
"I was concerned about my unborn baby," she said.
"If my baby was dead there was nothing I could do, and I had to help others."
She described one man having suffered a bad laceration to his head and was "bleeding profusely".
Judge Russell Collins said many of the passengers noted there appeared to be a "lack of co-ordination and a lack of control at the scene" from both crew members and emergency services.
But Fullers defence counsel Stephen Bonnar, QC, said although some passengers may have felt there was chaos, the crew's initial objective was to "secure the vessel and make sure it remains afloat".
In court today was Fullers' chief executive, Douglas Hudson, general manager Gavin Old, and the company's health and safety manager, Alistair Thomson.
Hudson told the court he and those at the company "deeply regret the incident".
He accepted some safety measures were "inadequate" during the voyage.
"We cannot turn back the clock, but we have learned a lot from this incident . . . and have improved risk mitigation and safety measures across the fleet.
"Our number one priority is always the safety of our passengers and crew," he said.
All the seats on Fullers ferries are now secured.
When calculating reparations for 29 of the worst-affected passengers, Collins said there were several factors he took into account, such as physical injury, psychological trauma and the age of the passenger.
A total of $92,500 was awarded to the victims, with the highest figure for a passenger being $10,000 and the lowest $500.
"These are the victims that I consider to have suffered at the upper end of this matter," the judge said.
Today was the first time Fullers has been convicted under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.
However, in 2015 it was warned twice by Maritime NZ of concerns with its equipment.
Northern Maritime NZ regional compliance manager Neil Rowarth said the sentence should send a "strong message to industry that risks must be properly managed".
"Paying passengers and crew working on board should feel safe in the knowledge that procedures are in place to manage risks and a vessel is in the right condition to operate safely. This was clearly not the case in this instance."
After being detained by Maritime NZ, the Kea returned to service in July 2015 following inspection by a recognised surveyor.
Kea's digital system upgrade was faulty
In late 2014, Fullers had upgraded Kea's control system to a digital version, known as the follow-up mode.
However, between October 2014 and the date of the crash there were at least nine recorded faults with the system, preventing an alignment with all the control stations on the ferry.
On at least 15 days between October 29, 2014 and the crash, the Kea was out of service or at a reduced service due to the faulty system.
In November 2014, Fullers consulted with Maritime NZ about the issues on the ferry, and it was decided the vessel would be operated without the follow-up mode.
After the meeting, one of Kea's masters requested they sail the vessel from the central wheelhouse, because it provided access to the ferry's radar, GPS and engine gauges -
which the wing stations did not.
The master also said there was a "large visual blind spot" caused by the vessel's funnel when navigating from the wing stations.
In internal memos to staff during late November, Fuller's health and safety manager said the faults were "resulting in a number of potentially serious control failure incidents".
Masters were then permitted to move between and manually operate the vessel from both the central and wing stations provided there was plenty of sea room.
In other changes, the follow-up mode was to be disabled, additional watch crew were to be made available to the master, and only experienced masters were to operate the Kea.
However, the risks to the Kea were still "heightened", with masters continuing to operate the ferry between the central and wing stations.
"[It] increased the risk of an incident occurring as a result of the manual transfer process failing or effective control not being transferred between the stations," court documents read.
After the follow-up mode was disabled there were still about a dozen incidents before the crash after control of the Kea was compromised by the "difficulties experienced by the masters in transferring manual control".
Fullers makes an average 100,000 voyages, transporting 4.5 million passengers annually.