Ferry gash 'no risk to passengers'

A ferry captain who sailed twice across Cook Strait with a gash in the side of his ship did not put anyone at risk, his lawyer says.

Michael Reed, QC, opened the defence case for John Henderson yesterday, saying the Crown's own expert witness had agreed there had been no risk when the Bluebridge passenger ferry Santa Regina sailed to Picton and back during stormy weather between April 25 and April 28, 2011.

The Crown has told a jury in Wellington District Court that, after a collision with a fishing boat at Glasgow Wharf in Wellington during high winds, the Santa Regina was left with a 3.5-metre gash in its side, which was not noticed while the ship sailed to Picton and back.

Henderson, 67, a ship's master who lives in Invercargill, has pleaded not guilty to causing unnecessary danger to the crew or passengers.

Mr Reed said there had been an incident that night, a very minor bump against the Southern Prospector fishing boat, while the Santa Regina was trying to berth.

A small hole of 12cm was found, which was fixed before the ferry left port again. The other hole, which was an opening of 1.8m, was not any danger or risk to crew or passengers on the ferry, Mr Reed said.

The Crown has said the gash was 3.5 metres, but Mr Reed pointed out the opening was 1.8m, while the whole scrape was 3.5m.

He said Henderson had been very thorough in his inspection of the ship after the bump. The gash to the side was not noticed in Wellington, during the sailing, while in Picton by any of the handlers, and was not spotted until the ferry arrived back in Wellington.

Henderson did not have command of the Santa Regina throughout the whole trip. Another captain shared the duty and was responsible for berthing in Picton and beginning the trip back to Wellington.

Mr Reed said that, while it was true a gash in the side was not a good look, and if spotted should have been fixed before the Santa Regina left port, it posed no threat.

"No water got in, and it was nonsense to suggest that any water getting in would have caused a problem."

He told the jury it would hear from Henderson, along with two experts, including a leading naval architect.

"It is absurd that a ship's master of his experience would put anyone at risk," Mr Reed said.

The trial is expected to finish next week.

The Marlborough Express