$783k Jubilee penalty highlights operator health and safety responsibilities

Maritime NZ says the prosecution of Ocean Fisheries Limited, operators of the Jubilee, sends a message to vessels’ owners and operators that health and safety is as much their responsibility as it is that of skippers and crew.

The operators were today fined $46,000 and also ordered to pay $737,325.25 in reparation to the families of the deceased.

“Vessel operators – you have crucial role to ensure skippers and crew have adequate training and your vessel is safe. It’s not good enough to leave it to your skipper,” said Maritime NZ’s Southern Compliance Manager Domonic Venz.

The Jubilee, a 16-metre, steel hull fishing trawler, sank south of Banks Peninsula in the early hours of 18 October 2015, resulting in the deaths of the three crew on board. The accident is thought to have been caused by a flooded fish hold that destabilised the vessel.

Due to the lack of a high water alarm, the sleeping crew would have been unaware their vessel was filling with water. They issued a mayday call at 4.20 am saying they were sinking, but no further communication was received. The bodies of the three men were later recovered from the vessel, which lies on the sea bed off the Rakaia River mouth. The men were found in the wheelhouse, which indicated they were unable to escape the vessel in time.

Following an investigation, Maritime NZ filed charges in the District Court, under the Health and Safety in Employment Act (1992).

Mr Venz says the vessel’s operators left too much of the safety management and oversight to the skippers and crew. While the operators were aware of issues, such as crew fatigue, they failed to adequately manage the risks.

Maritime NZ’s investigation also found that the training and induction for skippers and crew was insufficient and that there were no scheduled maintenance or safety meetings.

“There were no formal emergency drills and inadequate hazard identification on board the Jubilee,” Mr Venz said.

The sump for the pump in the fish room was known to block up with fish scales and needed frequent cleaning. There was no alarm system installed to alert crew members to flooding. The owners did not check whether regular safety drills were conducted to see if the escape hatches allowed crew to safely exit the vessel in an emergency.

Finally, Ocean Fisheries Ltd did not monitor days at work, hours of sleep, illness or other factors contributing to fatigue. It had no formal procedures in place to manage fatigue and no training provided in relation to fatigue management.

Mr Venz said Maritime NZ is determined to ensure an accident like this doesn’t happen again and there are many steps companies can take to prevent loss of life.

“Make sure you have comprehensive training and systems in place to guard against crew working while fatigued and take steps such as fitting alarms to alert crews to flooding. Your crew should plan and practice escaping from the vessel. There should also be adequate systems to ensure that all watchers are awake and alert before being left alone on watch.”

Since the accident, Ocean Fisheries Ltd has made a number of safety improvements to the other vessels in its fleet, including fitting high water alarms and additional pumps in the fish room.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the crew who lost their lives. The tragic story of the Jubilee should prompt others in the industry to take notice and make changes to their vessels and procedures.”

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