Maritime rules flouted

Stewart Island fisherman John Colin Barry has been fishing for about 30 years. He has never held a skipper's licence.

Easy Rider skipper Rewai Karetai was criticised for not having a skipper's certificate when it capsized in March 2012, claiming eight lives, including his own.

The issue of having a skipper's ticket was highlighted again two years after the loss, when his widow, Gloria Davis, came under the hammer amid claims she knew he did not have one.

She pleaded not guilty to three charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act and two under the Maritime Transport Act. A defended hearing was held in the Invercargill District Court last month but Judge John Strettell has reserved his decision.

It has been revealed other fishermen are also flouting industry regulations. Maritime New Zealand is now looking into whether Mr Barry has been operating in compliance with the rules.

Mr Barry, who fishes for Urwin and Company, claims he is not the only one without a ticket.

He had been fishing for about 30 years and "clocked up 40,000 hours behind the wheel".

He confirmed he skippered the Neroli and did not have a ticket but carried someone who did.

"Of course I am the skipper, I have much more experience. I only have to carry someone with a ticket."

He had never got around to sitting his ticket until now and would be qualified within two weeks, he said. Other fishermen were in the same position and it was a way of life, he said.

"After Maritime changed the rules, a lot of people never changed with them. It has been going on forever."

He believed in the wake of the Easy Rider tragedy, Maritime was after more skippers because it was being dragged over the coals.

A Maritime spokeswoman said Maritime had continuously led industry and community engagement on fishing vessel stability and safety.

After the loss of the Kotuku vessel in Foveaux Strait in 2006, it engaged with the local community about deck cargo, freeing ports and vessel stability.

Similar engagements occurred in 2013 after the loss of the Easy Rider, and it had also carried out several safety actions as a result of the sinking, including issuing a booklet on fishing vessel stability and completing an assessment of the Owenga Class of fishing vessels in May 2012 after the release of urgent recommendations by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.

In August 2012, it released the Fishing Sector Action Plan (launched jointly by the minister of labour and associate minister of transport).

Maritime was also about to change the system it used to manage the domestic commercial fleet.

The new Maritime Operator Safety System (MOSS) would improve safety across the sector but it was not a response to Easy Rider, she said.

From April, entry into MOSS would happen after expiration of an operator's SSM certificate.

New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen Executive Committee member Peter Scott said the federation would not condone not having a ticket and was involved with safety programmes.

Tickets also set limits on certain areas a vessel could fish in and some fishermen held the wrong tickets. He was aware of other fishermen, one in particular, who had no ticket for his whole career.

Another fisherman's ticket was so old, it was on cloth, he said.

Maritime Standards general manager Sharyn Forsyth said its records "do not show John Colin Barry as having a skipper's licence".

As the owner of the Neroli vessel, Mr Barry was aware of the legal requirement to have a licensed skipper operating the vessel. However, he could still be compliant with the rules if he employed a qualified skipper to operate the vessel.

Maritime was looking into whether he had been operating within the rules and would not make any further comment while its inquiries were ongoing.

Maritime took any instances of operators acting without the appropriate documentation seriously, she said.

Ensuring vessels and individuals were operating with the appropriate maritime documents had always been a critical focus of Maritime's approach.

The Southland Times