New Zealand's largest public ferry operator will have to wait before likely paying a significant fine after another incident and prosecution involving one of its catamarans.

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 2017.

It is the same ferry and same wharf which saw Fullers convicted, fined nearly $40,000 and ordered to pay almost $100,000 to victims of a February 2015 crash.

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.

Advertisement

Fullers pleaded guilty in July to failing to comply with a duty that exposed an individual to risk of death or serious injury and today a sentencing hearing was held in the Auckland District Court.

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

It's failures were 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 said even if more training and warnings were in place it "could not have avoided the hazard entirely".

The Kea has reintroduced audio warnings for passengers as the vessel reaches the end of a voyage, the court heard.

After hearing legal arguments this afternoon, Judge Nicola Mathers adjourned the hearing and her decision on a sentence, which is expected to be delivered in March.

She did, however, say Fullers would undertake a project order to help ensure future saftey.

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.

Advertisement

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

The Kea struck the Victoria Wharf in 2015, injuring several passengers and crew. Photo / NZ Herald
The Kea struck the Victoria Wharf in 2015, injuring several passengers and crew. Photo / NZ Herald

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.

Fullers, the court heard today, has already paid some $30,000 in reparation to the woman and a further $32,000 for consequential loss.

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

Advertisement

Kim Burkhart, who was acting as legal counsel for Fullers, said the company would also make a payment to the second victim.

Other passengers on the Kea suffered minor injuries.

READ MORE:
Troubled waters: The story of the maligned Fullers ferry Kea
Fullers ferry crash: Brain injuries prevent return to work
Cursed catamaran? Fullers faces another hefty fine after Kea's second court case
Fullers ordered to pay nearly $100k to Devonport ferry crash victims

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

After the Kea crashed in 2015 - 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 five-and-a-half hours of berthing training while the Kea was not in service, the court heard today, which was less than what masters received during retraining.

Advertisement

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 read.

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

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 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 this year alone.

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

Advertisement

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

Fullers is now in the process of decommissioning the Kea, which carried 1.8 million passengers in 2017, the court heard today.

It now only operates on weekends.