Maritime New Zealand has laid 10 charges against a Queenstown jetboat company and two of its drivers for allegedly operating unsafely.
The Government watchdog has cited Kawarau Jet and the drivers for running two boats in winds of up to 60 knots on December 18 last year.
One of the boats, with 16 passengers, limped into Kawarau Jet’s Queenstown Bay jetty after losing an engine that had sucked in water.
The other craft left the jetty on a trip soon afterwards.
Conditions that day caused two other Queenstown Bay operators, the Earnslaw steamer and Million Dollar Cruise’s motor launch, to postpone trips.
Neither Kawarau Jet co-owner Andy Brinsley nor Maritime NZ will comment.
A close source says Kawarau Jet and the drivers each face charges under the Maritime Transport Act – for operating “in a manner which causes unnecessary danger or risk to any other person or to any property”, and for failing to report the engine-out incident.
Both charges carry possible hefty fines or, in the case of the first one, imprisonment.
The parties also face charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, the source says.
The case will first be called on August 23.
Maritime NZ this month prosecuted former Kawarau Jet driver Ian Morgan under the “unnecessary danger or risk” charge, after a Chinese visitor was killed when his boat flipped at the confluence of the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers in September 2008. A jury acquitted Morgan after a five-day district court trial in Dunedin.
Former Kawarau Jet driver Brent Ward, who’s provided a witness statement for Maritime NZ, says “water was getting lifted off the lake in a straight line across the bay, so it was pretty severe”.
“I probably wouldn’t have gone out myself.”
Million Dollar Cruise owner Wayne Perkins – who’s been interviewed by Maritime – says he postponed a trip but didn’t consider the conditions were dangerous.
“I’ve seen those K Jet boats out in worse conditions than that and they can normally cope.
“I don’t think they went beyond the bounds of any undue risk,” Perkins says.
“I think Maritime have got a bee in their bonnet about K Jet.”
“To me it sounds a bit like a witch-hunt.”