Mercy plea for Easy Rider owner

Gloria Davis yesterday. Photo by ODT.
Gloria Davis yesterday. Photo by ODT.
Easy Rider owner Gloria Davis wept in the Invercargill District Court yesterday as victims' families and the sole survivor of the 2012 sinking which claimed eight lives asked the court to be merciful.

In an emotionally charged hearing during Davis' sentencing, crewman Dallas Reedy and the families said they did not blame her for the fishing boat disaster.

Davis' husband, Rewai Karetai (47), was among those who died.

Mr Karetai was the unqualified and inexperienced skipper of Easy Rider when it sank in Foveaux Strait just after midnight on March 15, 2012.

The boat had been carrying muttonbirders and two crew members to the Titi Islands, near Stewart Island.

Mr Karetai and seven others drowned in New Zealand's worst maritime disaster since the Wahine foundered in 1968.

After a defended hearing in January, Davis was found partly responsible for the Easy Rider's sinking and she and her company, AZ1 Enterprises, were convicted of three identical charges each.

Judge John Strettell found Mr Karetai decided to put to sea at night in poor weather in a heavily laden boat with no safety certificate.

Mr Karetai also agreed to carry passengers when the ship's registration did not allow it.

But Davis was also culpable. She was listed as the vessel's owner and the sole director of AZ1 Enterprises, and responsible for the ship's safety and compliance.

Davis was sentenced to 350 hours' community work and she and AZ1 were fined more than $200,000.

Davis said she accepted her responsibilities as the court had decided. She was too emotional to add anything else.

During the hearing, Judge Strettell asked the court registrar to read out victim impact statements from Mr Reedy and relatives of those who died.

All said Davis should not have been charged.

Mr Reedy, who spent 18 hours in the water clinging to a plastic container before he was rescued, said Davis and others who lost family members were ''still suffering''.

The mother of Shane Topi, Helen Topi, said sentencing Davis would not change anything or ''bring our people back''.

''I don't want anything from Gloria except a big hug.''

The registrar broke down when about to read the statement from Lynn Pikia, mother of victim Boe Pikia-Gillies (28), saying she could not continue.

Judge Strettell read the statement.

Ms Pikia said her son told her by phone on March 14 he was about to go muttonbirding.

Her last words to him were, ''I love you and have an awesome time.''

His death had devastated the family, she said.

Boe was loved by everyone and all his 27 cousins attended his tangi.

Ms Pikia said she had ''no reason in her heart'' to blame anyone for Boe's death.

''I don't blame Gloria. It was the waves that took my son. That's how the sea works.''

Ms Pikia said she had not met Davis before the sinking. On meeting her, she felt a kinship.

''Please, no more for her or her family,'' Ms Pikia said.

Judge Strettell said he was ''humbled'' by the victim impact statements, which he said ''were examples of the true spirit of restorative justice - forgiving and merciful''.

''Their approach is truly exceptional.''

He said the purpose of sentencing was not to be punitive to a woman who had lost her husband, her business and her source of income, but to bring home to others the duties and responsibilities required of vessel owners.

It was Mr Karetai's ''she'll be right'' attitude and ''foolhardy actions'' which had led to tragic consequences, he said.

On the main charge of permitting Easy Rider to be operated in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk to those on board, he sentenced Davis to 350 hours' community work.

On that charge AZ1 was fined $82,000. Davis and AZ1 were both convicted and discharged on the charge of operating Easy Rider knowing Mr Karetai did not hold a skipper's certificate.

On the Occupational Safety and Health Act charge of participating in the failure of AZ1 to take all practicable steps to ensure no contractors or subcontractors were harmed while working on Easy Rider, Davis was fined $3000, to be paid at $20 a week.

AZ1 was fined a further $122,000.

Judge Strettell acknowledged AZI was not trading and had no assets, and the fines might never be paid.

After the sentencing, several people hugged Davis, including Mr Reedy and Rena Fowler, who lost her nephew, Rewai Karetai, two sons and a grandson in the tragedy.

Outside the court, Mr Reedy said the sentence was ''fair and reasonable'' and he believed Judge Strettell had done a good job.

Davis read a brief statement to waiting media, saying spouses who were directors in family businesses ''who had no control over the farm, or boat, or business'' should remove themselves from the director's role.

allison.beckham@odt.co.nz

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