Maritime news making waves in 2011

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 39, March 2012

Searches in remote locations, tragic accidents and a dramatic grounding and oil spill were among the maritime and search and rescue events that dominated headlines in 2011, capping another busy year for MNZ staff. Here are some of the stories from last year...

Collision tragedy

Search crew
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
After four days of searching, Police divers found the teenager’s body.

The year began with two serious accidents in two days involving young people on small craft. One of these ended in tragedy.

In the first accident, at Tairua, in the Coromandel, two young people were injured following a collision between a rigid-hull inflatable boat fitted with a jet unit and an inflatable dinghy powered by an outboard motor. A 16-year-old and 12-year-old were on board the boat, and two 11-year-old boys were on the dinghy.

In the second accident, a 17-year-old boy died after two jetskis collided on Lake Okareka, near Rotorua. Two 18-year-old men were prosecuted by Police following an investigation into the accident.

Both accidents sparked inquiries by MNZ and Police, and the agencies reiterated the need for personal responsibility from all those in charge of recreational vessels. This was particularly important during the summer holiday period, a time of heightened boating activity on the water.

Southern Ocean seach effort

Maritime New Zealand ©2020
The Berserk just before its disappearance.

Late on the afternoon of Tuesday, 22 February, as the nation reeled with news of earthquake devastation in Canterbury, a search was beginning hundreds of miles away for the crew of the Norwegian yacht Berserk. The vessel was missing at the extreme southern boundary of New Zealand’s search and rescue region.

Well known in Norway for undertaking extreme and challenging voyages, the five-man crew of the 48 foot (14 metre) steel-hulled sailboat was part of an expedition aiming to make the first ice crossing to the South Pole on quad bikes.

After dropping the skipper and a crewman onto the ice, something went wrong on board the yacht.

An alert from its distress beacon, about 27 nautical miles (50 kilometres) north of Scott Base, was picked up by the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) and a massive search was launched for the yacht and its three crew.

Vessels and aircraft from various nations covered a calculated search area of more than 25,000 square kilometres, braving extreme weather conditions, including the area’s worst blizzard of the summer season for many years. Altogether, they spent 141 hours searching without success for the missing yacht and crew, making it one of the most extensive conducted in the area. It is also the furthest south that RCCNZ has conducted a search and rescue operation.

Microlight mystery

RCCNZ was faced with another challenging search and rescue operation in April, when 86-yearold microlight pilot Geoff Smale disappeared during a flight between Auckland and Ashburton.

The search began for Mr Smale, a former Olympic yachtsman, after he failed to arrive at Ashburton as scheduled. Up to 10 aircraft, including a plane and civil and military helicopters, searched for two days for Mr Smale and his high performance aircraft, covering hundreds of square kilometres along the route he was believed to have taken.

While Mr Smale was well prepared and his aircraft in good condition, rescuers had few clues about his location because he had not filed a formal flight plan or checked in with air trafic controllers when crossing Cook Strait, as he normally did.

The search area covered about 1,300 square kilometres and was centred over mountainous terrain between Nelson and Blenheim. Rescuers called for the public to advise of any sightings or hearing reports of the aircraft. Pilots, air traffic controllers and other aviation experts also provided valuable information. RCCNZ was able to check the information against radar tracking data supplied by Airways Corporation. A number of leads were generated, helping narrow down the search.

Soon after, a Royal New Zealand Air Force Iroqouis flying over Mt Duppa in the Bryant Range located the crashed aircraft 20 kilometres east of Nelson. Sadly, Mr Smale was found dead at the scene.

Jet boat prosecution

In May, a Queenstown jet boat company was prosecuted after admitting breaching maritime safety rules by undertaking two commercial trips on Lake Wakatipu in extreme weather conditions in December 2009.

Kawarau Jet was fined a total of $35,000 in the Queenstown District Court for three charges laid under the Maritime Transport Act. Two charges involved operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger to those on board, and the third charge was failing to report an incident to MNZ.

On the first trip, 17 passengers, including five children, were soaked when a large wave swamped one of the company’s vessels and incapacitated an engine. The incident was not reported to MNZ as required under maritime rules and, despite the poor weather conditions persisting, Kawarau Jet proceeded with a second trip, this time without incident.

MNZ’s Manager of Maritime Investigations, Steve van der Splinter, said that no other commercial trips were operating on the lake that day, but Kawarau Jet chose to go out twice, putting the lives of its passengers and crew in danger.

Close call for cutter

Maritime New Zealand ©2020
Twelve Outward Bound students ended up in the water after the Catamaran drove into the cutter.

At a court hearing in July, a commercial master was convicted after admitting a charge of failing to keep a proper lookout. His actions caused a serious collision with a sailing vessel with 12 Outward Bound students on board.

The former master of the Picton-based Dolphin Watch Ecotours vessel Delphinus was ordered to pay reparation of $4,400 for the charge of failing to maintain a proper lookout under the Maritime Offences Regulations. It followed a collision between the 12.9 metre commercial vessel and the 10 metre Outward Bound sailing cutter in February 2011 between Picton and Torea Bay.

In the collision, the bow of the cutter was sheared off and its mast toppled. Some of the students jumped overboard moments before impact. MNZ’s Manager Maritime Investigations, Steve van der Splinter, said the accident could have had far more serious consequences and was a reminder of the need for vessel masters to be vigilant at all times.

In a separate prosecution, the same company was ordered to pay fines and reparations totalling more than $137,000 after admitting two charges brought by MNZ under the Health and Safety in Employment Act. It followed an investigation into a December 2010 accident in which a passenger suffered life-threatening leg injuries.

Search hampered by deactivated distress beacon

RCCNZ called on outdoors people to leave distress beacons switched on once they’d been activated, after searchers had difficulty pinpointing a man lost in rugged terrain near Taupo in September.

RCCNZ initiated the search after detecting the personal locator beacon (PLB) alert, coming from a Wellington man tramping in the Kaimanawa Forest Park. Because the man turned his PLB off after 40 minutes, it was hard for rescuers to determine its exact location.

For some distress beacons, orbiting satellites need to make at least two passes before they can get an accurate positional fix. If the beacon is turned off, the second satellite pass may miss it.

Senior Search and Rescue Officer Keith Allen said the man also made the rescue harder by failing to stay in one place after the beacon was activated.

“If you need to use your beacon in an emergency, switch it on and leave it on, until someone tells you to turn it off,” he said.

“Where possible, try to find the highest point nearest you or an area of clear, open ground. Once the beacon is activated, sit tight and wait for help, unless it’s unsafe. This could take anywhere from a few hours to several days, so you need to be prepared to survive until help comes.”

The lost man was subsequently located and rescued by the YouthTown Rescue Helicopter.

Rena on the rocks

Maritime New Zealand ©2020
The Rena grounded on Astrolabe Reef.

The 236 metre cargo vessel Rena grounded on Astrolabe Reef near Tauranga on 5 October, sparking New Zealand’s largest-ever oil spill response effort.

Within hours of the vessel running aground, MNZ had technical experts on board to assess the damage and declared the event a Tier 3 spill, prompting the highest-possible level of response. Specialist equipment and expertise were mobilised from around the globe, and New Zealand’s own network of 400 trained spill responders and equipment was activated.

Six months on, work is continuing on the response and salvage effort. Most of the oil has been removed from the vessel, greatly reducing the environmental threat, and salvors are making good progress in removing containers and debris from the wreck.

Fatal helicopter crash

In November, RCCNZ launched a search for a helicopter and two men who had gone missing while helping fight fires at Karikari, in Northland.

On the second day of the search, crew on a fishing vessel located the helicopter in 7 metres of water, about 1 kilometre off the coast. Divers confirmed that the bodies of two missing men were inside the wreckage.

Search and Rescue Officer Conrad Reynecke said although the search had been concluded, staff were saddened that it ended in tragedy. The Civil Aviation Authority is investigating the crash.

“Don’t be a clown” lifejacket campaign launched

Maritime New Zealand ©2020
The “Don’t be a clown” campaign.

The summer water safety messages in MNZ’s new television campaign, released in December, targeted older males.

The campaign focuses on the importance of skippers taking responsibility and ensuring everyone on board their vessel wears a lifejacket. The message is delivered with a light, humorous touch: “If you’re not on board with lifejackets ... you’re not on board. Don’t be a clown. Wear a lifejacket.”

MNZ Deputy Director Lindsay Sturt says, “Too often, people choose not to wear lifejackets, with tragic results. In 2010, there were 14 fatalities associated with recreational boating and in 2011, we had 20. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if a lifejacket had been worn.

“Our research shows that recreational boating deaths occur more frequently for people in vessels under 6 metres. Boaties think they will be able to get to their lifejacket quickly, they think an accident won’t happen to them, they think they’ll be able to swim. Trouble at sea happens very quickly. Having a lifejacket simply stowed on a boat is not enough – if you want to survive to boat another day, you need to wear it.”

Back to index

Cover of Issue 39
Return to the index for Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 39, March 2012
Return to index
Previous: New Director charts clear course
Next: Rena – the challenge continues