A fatigued 17-year-old deckhand fell asleep at the helm causing a 16m longliner to crash on to rock in the Bay of Islands and sink.

Now Wild Fish (NZ) Limited, the company that owned the boat, has been fined $27,200 in the North Shore District Court and has been deemed reckless by Maritime NZ (MNZ) for failing to train the boat's crew how to use safety equipment designed to stop people falling asleep at the helm.

The Northern Advocate attempted to contact David Moore and Darrin Fabricius - directors of the Warkworth-based Wild Fish (NZ) Limited - for comment but had been unsuccessful.

The Jan ran aground on to rocks in the early hours of January 11, 2016, with a 17-year-old at the helm and MNZ said fatigue caused the man to fall asleep and it was lucky nobody died. It was the second time in five years that Wild Fish (NZ) Limited has had a boat grounded.

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MNZ Northern Regional Manager, Neil Rowarth, said the 17-year-old deckhand fell asleep soon after going on watch. Fatigue is one of the biggest factors causing injuries on fishing vessels, he said.

The helmsman had worked a full day, only slept between one and three-and-a-quarter hours, and was then woken to take his turn on watch. He had never been on watch by himself at night.

After he fell asleep, Jan ran on autopilot and grounded on rocks near Howe Point. The grounding woke the skipper and the other crew. The skipper ordered the crew to abandon ship due to the hull being breached. Jan then capsized and was a total loss.

Rowarth, says the prosecution sends a strong message to all maritime operators that they must have an effective system for managing crew fatigue.

"Crew fatigue is real and potentially disastrous for ships and their crew. With all three of Jan's crew, including the helmsman, asleep it was a matter of luck that this was not a fatal accident,'' he said.

"Companies and ship's masters are responsible for effectively managing their crew's work time and fatigue. If they do not, the results can be tragic."

In 2011, after its vessel Den Bearg grounded, Wild Fish Ltd had installed watch alarms on its fleet. Watch alarms sound periodically to prevent a crew member on watch from falling asleep. But, the company did not inform the crew of Jan that a watch alarm had been installed on the vessel and did not train the skipper or crew to use it. MNZ told the court Wild Fish Ltd had acted recklessly.

There was no effective system for monitoring the sleep of crew members to ensure that overly fatigued crew did not go on watch. Exacerbating the situation, a crew member with limited watch-keeping experience was permitted to go on watch alone. His fatigue level heightened the risk of him falling asleep on watch, and there was no mechanism or work procedure to wake him if he did.

Sean McCann National President of the NZ Fishing Industry Guild which represents many large fisheries companies said watch alarms were great to prevent helmsmen failing asleep, but only if they were used and staff trained. McCann said fatigue was an issue in the industry, which often involved people out in boats in rough conditions, which made it hard to get a good sleep.