Midwives thrown to deck in heavy seas

Lookout! Issue 37, August 2017

Three midwives on a team building day suffered thigh, knee and hand fractures when a passenger vessel struck a large wave and they were thrown to the deck.

Midwives thrown to the deck in heavy seas

The passenger services company was fined $35,000 and ordered to pay $78,000 in reparations after pleading guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. The vessel’s master also admitted a charge of failing to take all practicable steps as an employee, and was fined $15,000.

A strong ebb tide and wind contributed to the rough conditions for the morning journey to an island near Auckland, causing some passengers to feel sea sick. To get some fresh air nine of the 22 passengers ventured on to the bow of the 24-metre catamaran, which was travelling at its cruising speed of around 22 knots.

The Master and a crew member were seated at the helm, which overlooked the bow but only had partial visibility of people below.

To avoid the heavy seas, the Master had taken an alternate route in the lee of the island. But as the vessel approached the entrance to the bay to berth, it was exposed to large swells. The bow was rising steeply and falling as it crested each wave.

A passenger inside warned the mate that the group on the bow should be advised to return to the cabin seating area due to the conditions. However, the mate did not move to warn them in time.

As the vessel was nearing the point at which a right-hand turn was necessary to enter the bay, the skipper announced over the loud speaker that passengers should be seated or hold on. Those on the bow could only partly hear the warning and the turn was made within seconds of the announcement.

The mate, at this point, decided to clear the deck. But, before he made it outside, the vessel hit a large wave and the bow dropped with a heavy jolt, tossing passengers in the air.

As the bow rose, the three women landed heavily, with one having her grip ripped from the railing and landing on her left hip. She suffered three fractures around the neck of her femur or thigh bone which required a steel rod to be screwed to it.

One colleague suffered a fractured kneecap and another ended up tumbling down a stairwell and fracturing her left hand in several places.


  • The master and crew failed to follow the operating procedures for the vessel, which included a requirement to close the bow area when the wave height exceeded 1.5 metres.
  • Safety measures in a vessel’s MOSS (Maritime Operating Safety System) plan need to be followed to help safeguard the health and welfare of passengers and crew.
  • This company did not ensure there was clear communication between the Master and crew, and that crew communicated properly with passengers.
  • The location of passengers needed to be monitored given the rough weather and heavy sea conditions. In this case, the ebb tide was working against the north-east winds at the entrance of the bay causing steep seas.
  • The safety of passengers is paramount. Vessels must be operated in a manner suitable for the conditions to ensure those on-board return to shore unharmed.

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