Kawarau Jet fined $35,000; regrets causing unnecessary danger

Kawarau Jet says it regrets the incident which led to it yesterday being fined $35,000 in the Queenstown District Court and receiving criticism from Maritime New Zealand (MNZ).

The tourism operator was fined after pleading guilty to using two boats in a manner causing unnecessary danger and a further count of not reporting an incident on Lake Wakatipu.

Kawarau Jet had allowed two commercial trips to go ahead despite a forecast of gale-force winds and heavy rain.

In sentencing, Judge Dominic Flatley said the company had "favoured commercial gain over the safety of passengers" and said the company's culpability was "moderate" given it clearly knew the weather was unsuitable for the trips.

"There was absolutely no doubt that those boats should not have been on the water ... and to be so, it put the passengers at risk." Kawarau Jet co-director Shaun Kelly said yesterday "We regret the incident. We have made relative changes to our safe operational plan to avoid this happening again".

"Safety has been and always will be paramount in our operation. We understand Maritime New Zealand's concerns and we respect Judge Flatley's decision."

He declined further comment.

MNZ manager of maritime investigations Steve van der Splinter yesterday said the fine was a reminder to tourism operators of the importance of following safe operating procedures.

The police summary of facts said the weather forecast for December 18, 2009, had been for gale-force northwest winds, expected to gust over 60kmh, and heavy rain. No other recreational or commercial vessels were operating on the lake at the time.

On the first of two trips, 17 passengers, including five children, were on board the company's K-Jet 10 when it was swamped by a large wave, soaking the occupants and incapacitating one of its engines.

K-Jet 10 was able to return to the wharf on its second engine and was taken to the workshop for repairs. Despite the incident and continuing poor conditions, the company went ahead with a second trip, which was completed without complication.

Kawarau Jet was advised by Queenstown Lakes harbourmaster Marty Black the company was required to report the incident with MNZ, but it failed to do so. MNZ was advised of the incident by a member of the public and it launched an investigation three days later.

Mr van der Splinter said Judge Flatley had taken the principles of the Health and Safety in Employment Act into account.

"The same principles apply whether you are on land or on the water. The safety of the passengers is paramount." Although no-one was hurt in the trips, the decision to go out on the lake despite the extreme conditions had potentially put lives at risk, he said.

Kawarau Jet's procedures state the company will consider weather conditions before embarking on trips, and cancel them if appropriate.

"Of particular significance is the fact that on this particular day, no other commercial trips were operating on the lake. Yet, Kawarau Jet chose to go out, not just once but twice, and for one of those trips, after one of their own vessels had already got into trouble."

Mr van der Splinter said all skippers should check the forecast before going out on the water and stay on land if conditions look poor.

 

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