Urgent safety advice issued

CAUTION: Owenga style steel trawlers may become unstable if too much weight is loaded on deck.
CAUTION: Owenga style steel trawlers may become unstable if too much weight is loaded on deck.

The Easy Rider, which capsized off Stewart Island with the loss of eight lives, appears to have had stability limitations, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission says.

It has issued an urgent safety recommendation emerging from its continuing inquiry into the March 15 sinking.

The commission believed there may be up to nine boats of the same design built nearly 40 years ago still in service.

"There appear to have been stability limitations with the Easy Rider which will be shared by other boats of the same design," commission  chief investigator of accidents Captain Tim Burfoot said.

"The boats can be operated safely within these limitations, but owners and skippers need to know of them first to do so.

"While these limitations have been known previously, it may be that information has not been passed on over the years with changes of owners, skippers and surveyors for these boats."

The survivor of the Foveaux Strait capsizing, Dallas Reedy, speaks to media at Invercargill Hospital.
The survivor of the Foveaux Strait capsizing, Dallas Reedy, speaks to media at Invercargill Hospital.

The Easy Rider capsized in Foveaux Strait while travelling to Big South Cape Island for the muttonbirding season.

Nine people were on board. Sole survivor Dallas Reedy was found alive, using a plastic petrol can to stay afloat after more than 18 hours in the sea.

Four bodies were found after the Easy Rider sinking - those of Shane Topi, 29, Boe Pikia-Gillies, 28, John Karetai, 58, and Peter Pekamu-Bloxham, 53.

Still missing are Easy Rider skipper Rewai Karetai, 47, Paul Fowler-Karetai, 40, David Fowler, 50, and Odin Karetai, 7.

''The commission has asked the director of Maritime New Zealand to ensure that other boats of the same design are located and their owners are advised of this, and he's undertaken to take the necessary action," Burfoot said.

The commission uses urgent safety recommendations to ensure matters that appear to need attention can be addressed when they are found, rather than waiting for the issue of an interim or final report.   

"I have to stress that the commission has not yet made a finding as to whether the issue highlighted today contributed to the Easy Rider accident, but it is of concern,'' Burfoot said.

''Accidents and their impacts typically result from a range of factors coming together." 

The commission hopes to publish a final report into the tragedy by next March.

Owenga design

The Easy Rider was believed to be built about 1975 to the Owenga design for use in the Chatham Islands fisheries. 

The vessel was constructed of steel and was about 11 metres long, with a beam of about 3.55m. It was powered by a single diesel engine.

The Easy Rider was the fourth of the class to have been lost at sea over the years for differing reason,s including one that was overwhelmed by a large wave.

The commission said it had evidence that since the Owenga-class fishing vessels were built, authorities had recognised that they had limited reserve stability and could become unstable if too much weight was loaded on deck. 

In one case, the surveyor recommended that a plaque be placed in the wheelhouse warning skippers not to load too much on deck. The commission had made preliminary calculations which supported that view.

Thirty-seven years after the Owenga class of fishing vessels were built and with successive changes in ownership, it was possible current owners of the remaining vessels may not be aware of the special stability characteristics of their vessels, TAIC said.

Maritime New Zealand said it had started a process to identify all Owenga-class fishing vessels to assess stability characteristics and discuss associated operational requirements with the owners of the vessels. That process would be conducted by the end of May.

It was assessing whether there were other vessels that may have similar stability characteristics requiring attention.

Easy Rider inquest next month

The inquest, starting on June 6, will be before Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean.

Justice Ministry spokesman Steve Corbett said the limited-scope inquest was expected to conclude in one day, although a reserve day had also been set.

The inquest would look into limited details and await the TAIC report, he said

Survivor Dallas Reedy, who will attend the inquest but not as a witness, said yesterday safe practices and procedures might be able to be tweaked but there was not much that could be done.

"I don't know what more they can do. The Titanic sunk and it was unsinkable ... but any recommendations to make it safer, I'm all for it," he said.

The inquest would also bring closure for the families, he said.

Jill Karetai, Easy Rider skipper Rewai Karetai's aunt, said yesterday the inquest would add some closure and answer the families' questions on "what actually happened?" 

Fairfax Media