Passenger’s back broken on high speed tourist vessel

19 March 2018

Seafort Holdings Limited and its sole director and shareholder, Richard John Prentice, have been ordered to pay fines and reparations totalling more than $93,000 after a 60-year-old passenger, Raewyn Russell, had her back broken when the company’s high speed passenger vessel, Mack Attack, hit a large wave.

Mr Prentice was also the master of the Mack Attack during the accident near Cape Brett in the Bay of Islands.

In the Auckland District Court, Judge C.J. Field found Seafort Holdings and Mr Prentice had not advised the passengers of the known, heightened risk of back injuries, even more so for older people, sitting at the front of high speed passenger vessels.

“This injury is a permanent disability which has resulted in Mrs Russell giving up her career,” Judge Field said. Mrs Russell had worked as a manager and travelling salesperson.

Maritime NZ Northern Regional Manager, Neil Rowarth, said the convictions send an important message to masters and owners of passenger vessels: “You have responsibility for your passengers’ safety.

“You must take practical steps to help keep your passengers safe.”

Boat in water.
Maritime New Zealand © 2020
Mack Attack.

Mack Attack is a catamaran that can reach speeds of up to 100 km/hr. At the time of the accident it was used for tourist excursions, principally from Paihia to the Hole in the Rock.

Maritime NZ has published safety guidelines for commercial high speed/thrill ride vessel experiences, which detail operators’ obligations.

Mr Rowarth said that when the accident happened on 18 October 2014, Mrs Russell and her husband Craig Russell were sitting in the front row of seats.

As the vessel was nearing Cape Brett it struck a large wave at speed and landed heavily. Mrs Russell was thrown forward and on landing back in her seat heard a crack in her back and doubled over in pain.

An ambulance was called to meet Mack Attack at Waitangi Wharf. Mrs Russell was taken to Bay of Islands Hospital and found to have a fracture in her eleventh thoracic vertebrae.

Maritime NZ investigated and prosecuted Seafort Holdings and Mr Prentice. They pleaded not guilty, a trial began in September last year, and Judge Field found them guilty last month of one charge each under the Maritime Transport Act that they “omitted to do an act that caused unnecessary danger or risk to any other person”. Judge Field released his sentencing decision on Thursday.

Seafort and Mr Prentice are to pay $32,630 in reparation to Mrs Russell; Seafort has been fined $55,000 and Mr Prentice has been fined $5,500.

Judge Field stated that Seafort Holdings and Mr Prentice “were in a position to ensure that Mrs Russell was advised of the increased risk at the front of the vessel and to have seated [passengers] appropriately. Mrs Russell did not have the opportunity to make her own informed choice about where to sit based on [her] knowledge of [her] physiology and [her] appetite for risk”.

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