Easy Rider decision reserved

Last updated 12:11 31/01/2014
Gloria Davis
FAIRFAX NZ
Gloria Davis in the Invercargill District Court.
Southland Times photo
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
Easy Rider sole survivor Dallas Reedy.
EASY RIDER SKIPPER: Rewai Karetai.
EASY RIDER SKIPPER: Rewai Karetai.

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A judge has reserved his decision in the defended hearing for Easy Rider owner Gloria Davis.

After two weeks and almost 30 witnesses giving evidence, the Easy Rider defended hearing ended today in the Invercargill District Court.

Davis is the widow of Easy Rider skipper Rewai Karetai. The Easy Rider capsized on March 15, 2012, claiming eight lives. Easy Rider owner Davis has pleaded not guilty to five charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act and the Maritime Transport Act. AZ1 Enterprises Ltd also faces five charges.

Judge John Strettell expressed his sympathies to Davis and her supporters this morning.

In his closing address crown solicitor Brent Stanaway said the Easy Rider capsize was a preventable maritime tragedy. He reminded the court Davis was not singled out and it was not a test case because "sadly" there had been many others of a similar nature that had come before the courts throughout the years.

While it seemed clear Mr Karetai acted as mater of the ship, both AZ1 Enterprises and Davis were culpable, he said.

Amicus Jeff Walker told the court the prosecution had relied on a number of particular decisions that were made but Davis had very little to do with any of those decisions, he said.

Davis told the judge her submissions were based on how she operated within the maritime system to the best possible manner in accordance with the ships documents.

The defended hearing started on Monday last week.

Yesterday, an expert witness criticised Maritime New Zealand, saying one of its rules was unregulated.

Davis opened the defence case yesterday by acknowledging all of the loved ones that have passed away.

She told the court the Easy Rider was operating completely within the law, no rules were broken and no offence committed.

The last witness, naval architect Harry Stronach, yesterday told the court the Easy Rider was built to a design that had inherently poor stability characteristics.

Even when operating with care and an awareness of the stability issue the safety of the vessel would have always been well below a level regarded as safe by modern standards, Mr Stronach said.

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There was a deficiency in the Maritime rules in that an important aspect of vessel safety was unregulated for several small fishing vessels, he said.

The stability assessment carried out on Easy Rider in 2003, when it was a trawler, should have identified the stability issue but failed to, Mr Stronach said.

"Boats like Easy Rider should not have been permitted to continue operations without specific instructions and limitations regarding their safety in relation to stability and loadings."

Crown solicitor Brent Stanaway asked Mr Stronach if it was correct that three important factors affected the stability of the Easy Rider on the day it capsized - the load including the people, the route taken and the weather.

Mr Stronach said any loading on a vessel had an effect on stability but he could not comment on the route or weather.

Mr Stanaway asked him if he agreed the vessel was fully loaded, which he did, but he could not form a judgment when asked if it was overloaded.

Earlier in the week Bluff woman Meri Leask, a defence witness, described Mr Karetai as a gentleman.

She told the court the weather on the day the Easy Rider left Bluff would not have stopped commercial fishermen going out and she had not been concerned when Mr Karetai had contacted her, telling her he was going out.

Mrs Leask was asked about a phone call she received from a friend the night Easy Rider left Bluff voicing his concerns about the vessel being overloaded. Mr Stanaway asked her if her friend had asked Mrs Leask to do something about it but she said Mr Karetai was the skipper and knew what to do.

"I don't question any of the commercial guys," she said.

The case, before Judge John Strettell, is expected to close this morning.

THE CHARGES

The charges Gloria Davis faces: That being a director of AZ1 Enterprises Ltd, she acquiesced or participated in the failure of the employer company to ensure no action or inaction of any employee while at work harmed any other person on the Easy Rider; that as director of AZ1 Enterprises, she acquiesced or participated in the failure of the company to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work on the Easy Rider; and that as a director she acquiesced or participated in the failure of the company, as principal, to take all practicable steps to ensure that no contractor or subcontractor was harmed while doing work on the boat that he was engaged to do.

Davis is also charged that she knew that a master holding a skipper's certificate was required before the boat could be lawfully operated, and that the certificate was not held and that she caused or permitted the boat to be run in a way that caused unnecessary danger or risk to persons aboard.

AZ1 Enterprises Ltd faces similar charges.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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