Easy Rider widow attacks skipper

COLLETTE DEVLIN AND LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 09:46 03/05/2013
Daniel Tobin

Chief investigator Tim Burfoot briefs the media on the findings of the Easy Rider inquiry.

EASY RIDER SKIPPER: Rewai Karetai.
Fairfax NZ
EASY RIDER SKIPPER: Rewai Karetai.
Easy Rider
DOUG FIELD/Fairfax NZ Zoom
The Easy Rider, which sank in Foveaux Strait on March 15, 2012, claimed eight lives.

Easy Rider survivor tells of ordeal

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Easy Rider boat tragedy skipper Rewai Karetai was a "silly man" and he should have read the weather forecast, says a victim's widow.

Karetai's actions, decisions and lack of training contributed to the Easy Rider tragedy, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has found.

In the early hours of March 15 last year, the Easy Rider was struck by a large wave in Foveaux Strait, capsizing the fishing vessel and sending eight of the nine people on board to their death.

The one survivor, Dallas Reedy, was found by rescuers clinging to a petrol can after spending up to 18 hours in the water.

Four bodies were recovered: Shane Topi, 29, Boe Pikia-Gillies, 28, John Karetai, 58, and Peter Pekamu-Bloxham, 53.

The boat's skipper Rewai Karetai, 47, Paul Fowler-Karetai, 40, David Fowler, 50, and Odin Karetai, 7, were never found.

Marama Karetai-Bloxham, widow of Peter Pekamu-Bloxham, said she was both angry and sad when she read the findings.

"Rewai made a lot of mistakes," she said.

"He called the shots that night and should have known better."

Her husband was a muttonbirder on board the boat, but the other men were not fishermen and did not know any better, she said.

They were shearers, oyster-shuckers and freezing workers who had been on boats but knew nothing about the weather or the stability of boats.

"Peter was a fabulous man - a tragic waste of a life and nothing will bring him back," she said.

"His family miss him so much."

Karetai-Bloxham said knew Karetai had been out on boats for years but did not know he was unqualified. She had known him as a deck hand or part of a crew and had never known him as a skipper of a vessel.

"If he had of read the weather forecast this tragedy may not have happened," she said.

"I don't know what he was trying to do that night but he messed up a lot of lives.

"He was a silly man."

When the tragedy happened, Karetai-Bloxham did not blame Karetai for a long time but she said that during the past year new information had come to light that had changed her mind.

"Peter would have trusted Rewai, they all would have," she said.

She believed if her husband had known the truth, he would not have got on board the Easy Rider the night of the tragedy and she believed the others would not have either.

"If Rewai had let that safety guy get on the boat and check it instead of avoiding him then the tragedy may not have happened," she said.

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said he hoped the TAIC report would help seafarers adopt better practices, as had happened after the Wahine disaster in 1968.

"Lessons have been learned from that and I just hope its the same from this tragedy," he said.

However, he also believed the publication of the report would reawaken the sorrows suffered by the Bluff community at the time of the Easy Rider sinking.

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"They'll be feeling quite devastated by the report because, really, they're still in mourning for those that are lost," Shadbolt said.

"In the long term, hopefully, [the report] will be a benefit to others but for the families involved it will be another layer of the tragedy, to think it could have been avoided."

Bluff Community Board chair Jan Mitchell said this morning she did not want to comment on the TAIC findings directly, out of respect for the families involved.

"Regardless of the findings, a . . . tragedy occurred and the sympathy of our community is with the families," she said.

"Foveaux Strait can be a dangerous stretch of water . . . for even the strongest and best-equipped boats and crews."

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) spokesperson Steve Rendle said it could make no comment on the detail of the TAIC report as matters relating to the incident were before the court.

However, MNZ welcomed the general safety messages in the report, he said.

MNZ had assisted TAIC with its enquiries and also conducted its own investigation, which led to charges being laid under the Maritime Transport Act 1994, the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, and the Crimes Act 1961, against the company that operated the vessel, AZ1 Enterprises Limited, and Gloria Davis, in her capacity as a director of AZ1 Enterprises.

These charges are to be dealt with in September at a defended hearing.

BASIC BOATING RULES IGNORED

TAIC has found skippers and persons in charge of vessels must have at least a basic understanding of ship stability, and how the loading of people and equipment can affect that.

Skippers should also take heed of weather forecasts and avoid sailing when the forecast is bad whenever possible.

"Navigating a small craft in rough seas at night is an inherently dangerous activity and should be avoided if and when possible," the report said.

Life-saving equipment on a vessel of any description being used for any purpose must be suitable for the intended trip, and for the number and size of persons on board.

Maritime rules specify the bare minimum requirements for life-saving equipment. However, the commission recommended operators consider buying higher standard equipment that can improve the chances of detection and rescue in the event of a mishap.

Float-free EPIRBs and people carrying personal locator beacons would improve the chances of being noticed and rescued, particularly in the event of a sudden or catastrophic event such as a capsize, the report said.

It also said those who own and operate commercial vessels must ensure they fully understand and comply with all legal requirements arising from this ownership and operation.

The commission was concerned that rules and processes for switching a vessel between commercial and recreational use had not been as clear as they could have been. As a commercial fishing vessel the Easy Rider should not have been carrying passengers. The commission noted Maritime NZ had work under way to clarify that.

KEY DATA MISSING

Maritime New Zealand has been told to fix its record-keeping after TAIC found important ship operation and safety information appeared to be lost.

In its report, the commission warned MNZ to address issues around the retention and disposal of important maritime records.

When Owenga-class vessels such as the Easy Rider were built, surveyors realised that they had limited reserves of stability, the report said. However, the information appeared to have been lost over time with successive changes in ownership and with changes in maritime administration.

Yesterday, chief investigator of accidents Captain Tim Burfoot said it was also likely Maritime NZ had lost records for vessels of other designs.

Record-keeping had not been good and he hoped it would be addressed now.

If boat owners wanted records they should contact MNZ and if they were worried, they could get boats reassessed to start record-keeping again, he said.

Earlier in its investigation the commission recommended MNZ alert owners of other vessels built to the Owenga design about the stability issues.

However, the commission had found there was a historical lack of common and good-standard practice for keeping ship operation and safety records, which had resulted in the loss of important information about commercial vessels still operating today.

"Because commercial vessels can frequently change ownership and their owners can switch between safe-ship management providers, there is a need for Maritime NZ to maintain a central database of all important safety and operation records for the entire life of each vessel in the system," the report said.

The report also questioned MNZ rules that specify only the bare minimum requirements for life-saving equipment.

It recommended operators consider buying a higher standard of equipment to improve the chances of detection and rescue in the event of a mishap. The commission was unable to locate the as-built plans and other hydrostatic data for the Easy Rider itself, to use as a basis for calculating the Easy Rider's stability.

The various Owenga-class vessels were built in different geographical locations at different times over several years. The first was launched in the late 1960s.

Because of the nature of shipbuilding, the characteristics of individual vessels would vary from the design and no two vessels would be identical, and some could deviate significantly from the design, the report said.

The variations in hydrostatic characteristics between vessels built to the same design meant the hydrostatic data used in the report might differ from that of the Easy Rider, the report said.

 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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