Fines total $100k after cruise ship runs aground

The ship 'L'austral' as it enters Otago Harbour last year. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
The ship 'L'austral' as it enters Otago Harbour last year. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
A French cruise company and a ship's master have been ordered to pay fines totalling $100,000 after they were found to have endangered human life following an incident in a prohibited zone in the remote New Zealand Subantarctic Islands.

The cruise company Compagnie du Ponant and Captain Regis Daumesnil were sentenced today in Wellington District Court after the Department of Conservation (Doc) and Maritime New Zealand brought charges against them.

Daumesnil pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary danger or risk to the people on board under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 and to entering a 300m exclusion zone around the islands, resulting in him receiving a $30,000 fine.

The company was also fined $70,000 after it pleaded guilty to entering a 300m exclusion zone around the islands which was a breach of the Resource Management Act 1991.

The summary of facts said there was a failure to monitor the ship's position near hazards and as a result of the ship's grounding the hull was punctured.

On January 9, 2017, the ship L’Austral, carrying 356 passengers arrived at the Snares Islands and eventually entered the restricted zone where the stern of the ship grounded on an uncharted rock 220 metres from shore. 

GPS positions showed at the time of the grounding the vessel was being navigated without following any passage plan.

"Rather than return to Bluff, the nearest port, Capt Daumesnil made the decision to continue on the cruise schedule to the Auckland Islands, a further 285km south."

Doc Southern South Island operations director Aaron Fleming said it was “pure good luck we did not have a potential environmental disaster” resulting from the incident.

“The Snares Islands are one of the jewels of our conservation estate and protected as a Unesco World Heritage site. 

“More than 5 million birds, as well as sea lions, and whales breed there,” Mr Fleming said.

Maritime New Zealand southern regional compliance manager Mike Vredenburg said the situation could have turned into a tragedy and was a reminder of why passage planning was mandatory.

Everyone on board the ship was endangered when it ran aground and was "holed", Mr Vredenburg said.

"Capt Daumesnil then made the situation worse by sailing further away, from any possible help, should it have been needed,” he said.

In arriving at the final sentences, the Court took account of the defendants’ guilty pleas and other personal mitigation factors – for Ponant this included its previous safety record and good character and for Captain Daumesnil the professional consequences that have resulted from the incident.

The Court has ordered that 90% of the fine laid under the Resource Management Act charges be awarded to Doc, on behalf of the Minister of Conservation, as the local authority for the Subantarctic Islands.


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