Company and skipper prosecuted for fishing beyond limits

Lookout! Issue 30, December 2013

A Chatham Islands fishing company and skipper were prosecuted for operating a vessel outside the limits of its safe ship management (SSM) certificate.
Vessel outside limits
Maritime New Zealand ©2019
A P3 Orion took photos of the crew operating a fishing vessel outside the limits of its certification.

Positional data provided by a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion aircraft, which photographed the 16 metre vessel operating east of the Chathams, showed it was 21 nautical miles offshore – 9 nautical miles beyond the inshore limits set by its SSM certificate (12 nautical miles off the coast).

The skipper, who is the company’s sole director, was not on board the vessel at the time and not aware of the incident. He was initially unsure whether the vessel’s SSM certificate had been assigned inshore or coastal limits, and thought that – provided he had the vessel’s radio survey completed and medical stores upgraded – the vessel was qualified to operate offshore.

The surveyor in charge of the vessel confirmed that it previously had restricted offshore limits (100 nautical miles from the coast). However, at the time of its last survey, the vessel’s SSB radio needed surveying, medical stores needed to be upgraded and a section of the hull required some weld repairs. The surveyor could only assign inshore limits until those deficiencies had been rectified.

The skipper and his company were charged with offences under the Maritime Transport Act (MTA) involving operating without the required SSM document. Both parties pleaded guilty. The skipper was sentenced to 90 hours community work and his company was fined $5,000 and legal costs of $750.

LOOKOUT! Points

  • It is an offence under the MTA for a person to operate a ship without the appropriate current maritime document, with fines of up to $10,000 or 12 months imprisonment for an individual and $100,000 for a body corporate. The prosecution sends a clear message to fishing operators to make sure that safety at sea is treated as a priority.
  • The radios on board were in good working order, and on the day of the offence contact was maintained with the Chatham Islands throughout the voyage. However, operational limits are imposed to show the area that a vessel is equipped to operate safely within and to ensure that, if it does get into trouble, safety equipment such as radios and medical supplies are sufficient. Going outside those limits poses a risk to the safety of the crew and cannot be tolerated.
  • The vessel was manned by two experienced fishermen who knew the area well, and the safety risks were not considered significant. While the gravity of the offending was low, the skipper and other members of his family had been previously prosecuted for similar SSM-related offences, and this counted against them.
  • The skipper had a good reputation in the Chatham Islands and often gave assistance to search and rescue operations, but the judge said the previous conviction and sentence in 2010 had not had the intended deterrent effect, and credit could not be given for good character. The judge warned that if the skipper offended again, he could expect a significantly harsher outcome.

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