TAIC releases report on 2019 water taxi capsizing incident off Stewart Island

Henerata (Photo: TAIC)

The New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has released its report into the September 12, 2019 capsizing incident involving the water taxi Henerata.

On the said date, Henerata was being operated as a water taxi sfrom Freshwater Hut to Golden Bay via Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island/Rakiura.

At approximately 13:00 local time, Henerata departed from the Freshwater Hut landing and travelled down the Freshwater River. There were six passengers and a skipper on board.

At about 13:10, the vessel entered Paterson Inlet and the weather conditions deteriorated. About 10 minutes later, Henerata became swamped and then capsized.

The skipper made a mayday radio broadcast prior to the capsize. The skipper and the passengers held on to the upturned vessel for about an hour before rescue vessels arrived.

The passengers and the skipper suffered hypothermia and water ingestion to varying degrees. Passengers who required hospital treatment were transferred to Southland Hospital by helicopter.

There were no fatalities.

The TAIC found that the sea conditions were worse than the skipper expected when Henerata entered steep and unpredictable seas.

The commission also found that Henerata broached as a result of the steep and unpredictable seas, was overwhelmed, and capsized.

Due to the absence of any communication facilities in the Freshwater River area, passenger pick-up services from Freshwater Hut were rarely cancelled. It was about as likely as not that this resulted in a self-perceived pressure to operate the water taxi service.

The operator has since amended its booking information provided to passengers to notify them that cancellations are possible and that they should be prepared to stay overnight should cancellations occur.

The operator’s Maritime Transport Operator Plan had no defined weather criteria to assist the skipper’s decision to sail, nor did it assess the risk of capsize. The commission has made a recommendation to the operator to address these issues.

The operator has made several changes to its operations to improve safety should a capsize occur.

A lack of stability information likely prevented the operator being able to fully assess the risk of capsize.

The commission has made a recommendation that Maritime New Zealand ensure that future Maritime Rules require appropriate stability and buoyancy testing for all domestic commercial passenger vessels.


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