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Inquiry 12-201 Fishing Vessel Easy Rider report released
1.             The Transport Accident Investigation Commission released its report[1] this morning (5am, Friday 3 May 2013) on the capsize of the Easy Rider after representatives spent yesterday in Invercargill briefing family, stakeholders, and the news media in a series of meetings.
2.             The Commission’s inquiry has found that the Easy Rider - which capsized and sank in Foveaux Strait on 15 March 2012 with the loss of eight lives and a sole survivor - was loaded with too much weight, too high in the vessel, resulting in it having insufficient reserve stability for its intended voyage.
3.             The report said that the Easy Rider capsized when it was engulfed by a large breaking wave which added weight to the deck already heavily loaded with cargo and, at the same time, rolled the vessel past the point it could recover.
4.             The weather forecast was for gale force winds, and these conditions were not suitable for the vessel to venture across Foveaux Strait at night with marginal stability and passengers on board.
5.             “The skipper did not have the required maritime qualification to be in charge of the Easy Rider when it was operating as a commercial fishing vessel, and the fishing deckhand certificate which he had did not cover the fundamentals of stability. From the way the vessel was loaded it appears that the skipper did not understand the concept of vessel stability,” said Chief Commissioner John Marshall QC.
6.             “The Easy Rider was operating as a commercial fishing vessel and should not have been carrying the six passengers and their equipment on the accident trip to the Titi Islands.
7.             “There was insufficient life-saving equipment for the number of people on board, including as few as four approved lifejackets to share between nine persons, and these were probably too small for several of the larger persons on board.
8.             “The four-person self-inflating life raft – which unfortunately became trapped and prevented from activating during the capsize – would not have been sufficient for the nine persons on board.
9.             “There is no evidence that alcohol or drugs were a cause of the accident. However, of the four bodies recovered, one crew member was found to have a high level of THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, in his blood. In addition, a passenger was found to have a level of THC, and one passenger was found to have a high level of alcohol in his blood. Alcohol and cannabis affect decision making and alcohol affects the ability of people to survive in cold water. Crew, in particular, have safety responsibilities to all on board and should never be on duty when their judgment may be impaired,” Mr Marshall said.
10.        Mr Marshall said there were several key lessons that could be learnt from the accident:
·          Skippers and persons in charge of vessels must have at least a basic understanding of ship stability and how the loading of people and equipment can affect this stability.
·          Skippers should take heed of weather forecasts and avoid sailing when the forecast is bad whenever possible.
·          Navigating small craft in rough sea conditions at night is an inherently dangerous activity and should be avoided if and when possible.
·          The life-saving equipment on a vessel of any description being used for any purpose must be suitable for the intended trip and for the number and size of persons on board.
·          Maritime Rules specify the bare minimum requirements for life-saving equipment. Operators should consider purchasing a higher standard of equipment that can improve the chances of detection and rescue in the event of a mishap.
·          Individuals and entities, including companies and their directors, that own and operate commercial vessels must ensure that they fully understand and comply with all legal requirements arising from this ownership and operation.
11.        The inquiry report said that in the early years, when vessels of the Easy Rider’s design were built, surveyors realised that the vessels had limited reserves of stability. This information appeared to have been lost over time. The Commission made an urgent safety recommendation to Maritime New Zealand about this early in the inquiry, and it has now made a further recommendation that issues around the retention and disposal of important maritime records be addressed.
12.        The Commission is recommending that Maritime New Zealand do more to educate water users about life jacket requirements and options.
13.        The Commission is also concerned that the rules and processes for switching a vessel between commercial and recreational use have not been as clear as they could have been, but it noted that Maritime New Zealand had work underway to clarify this.
14.        “The Easy Rider was transporting extended family to an island where they were to prepare for the upcoming muttonbird harvest. The accident happened six years after the Kotuku tragedy, in which six members of an extended family had also lost their lives in Foveaux Strait while returning, by fishing vessel, from islands after completing the muttonbird harvest,” Mr Marshall said.
15.        “The circumstances of the two tragedies were different. Nevertheless, in each case a fishing vessel not normally used for transporting passengers and their equipment was involved, and in each case the standards of the day and the Maritime Rules were not met. 
16.        “During the course of this investigation the Commission talked to the owners and inspected the operation of four vessels that were being prepared to transport passengers and cargo to the Titi Islands for the 2012 season. 
17.        “Those inspections showed that many of the lessons from the Kotuku tragedy had been heeded, at least by those operators.
18.        “Maritime New Zealand has consulted the muttonbird associations and made it known that skippers and anybody intending to travel on these other vessels could request a free ‘safety check’ from Maritime New Zealand before departure from Bluff,” Mr Marshall said. The Commission’s report acknowledged work that was being done by many organisations and participants to ensure maritime transport in support of the muttonbird harvest was safe.
19.          " I need to emphasise that the Commission’s inquiry and report are independent of other agencies’ investigations and actions, including Maritime New Zealand’s prosecutions relating to this accident. While the Commission has considered evidence and made findings on similar matters, our job has been for a different purpose and it has been performed observing different legal requirements. Essentially our job is to investigate and determine the causes and circumstances of accidents and incidents with a view to avoiding similar occurrences in the future, rather than ascribing blame to any person," Mr Marshall said.

[1]   Marine inquiry 12-201 Fishing vessel Easy Rider, capsize and foundering, Foveaux Strait, 15 March 2012