A charge bought against the Master of the SANTA REGINA of endangering passengers and crew during a return trip to Picton was dropped by the judge in the Wellington Court this afternoon and the jury dismissed.

After listening to this trial drag out during the past six days I am wondering if there is a vendetta by Maritime New Zealand against our profession. It is well known that they do not like the term Captain and prohibit any employee who may have the experience and qualifications to call himself Captain to prefix his name with the title.

Some of the hearing concerned what happened before the minor berthing collision. We had to watch a real time video taken from the AIS of the berthing manoeuvre. Surely this had nothing to do with the charge and this type of forum is not the ideal place to discuss such technical matters. Doctors who make a mistake with an operation are usually judged by their peers as happens with many other professions.

The original charge included not reporting the accident as soon as practical but this was dropped before the trial began.

These minor collisions (allusions) are a frequent occurrences at ports throughout the world. They are similar to a hard landing by a jet. How hard does it have to be before it is reported? A cabin attendant sitting next to me during a hard landing replied when I commented about one “He always  does it like that”.

Until about 10 years ago this type of accident would be reported to and handled by the Harbourmaster who was in all ports the senior pilot who had spent many years berthing and un-berthing ships. Sadly this is now not the case.

The crown likened it to the RENA grounding by stating that big things start from small things. They were reminded by the defence that a 1.85 metre gash 50 mm wide was not quite the same as running a container ship onto a reef at 18 knots.

That the Master had not seen the small tear in the shell plating when he and the chief engineer inspected the area after berthing involved a number of witnesses. A badly made video showing how different brands of torches and car head lights could light up the ships side was shown to the jury in a one hour show made by a road crash and fire investigator. I thought he was a torch salesman.

A weather forecaster even offered opinion on how ferries entered Marlborough Sounds in stormy conditions although on the day in question the highest recorded wind speed was only 42 knots.

It disturbs me that our profession is administered in New Zealand by such an inept Government Department and whose treatment of a senior officer will not win them any friends. It is little wonder that many fine New Zealand seafarers are now working overseas.

The cost of this investigation and subsequent trial must run into many thousands of dollars which will be borne by the taxpayer.

Captain Henderson had to wait nearly three years to have his day in court which is unacceptable.


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