17 Mar 2014

Case against ferry captain thrown out

8:59 pm on 17 March 2014

A judge has dismissed the trial for the Bluebridge ferry captain who twice sailed across Cook Strait with a gash in the hull of his vessel.

Bluebridge ferry captain John Henderson.

Bluebridge ferry captain John Henderson. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

John Henderson was charged with causing unnecessary danger to passengers while in command of the Santa Regina.

While berthing in bad weather in April 2011, the ferry was blown sideways and hit another vessel causing two holes in its hull.

Captain Henderson was not aware of a larger of the two holes, about 3 to 4 metres in length, until he had sailed the ferry across Cook Strait twice.

After hearing arguments in chambers, Judge Thomas Broadmore on Monday told the jury that he was discharging Captain Henderson.

Judge Broadmore said the Crown had to prove that the failure to find the gash meant a risk to passengers and crew, but he had come to the conclusion that there was no risk.

Outside court, Captain Henderson told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Monday that he feels vindicated.

"It's obviously taken a heavy toll on myself, my wife and my family to spend three years with this over your head being prosecuted by Maritime New Zealand. It's very frustrating, a lot of pressure goes on you for being accused."

Maritime New Zealand says it was a complex and technical case relating to the assessment of potential and actual risk, which involved public safety and the application of law, and it was appropriate that the case went to court.

John Henderson has since retired from Strait Shipping, which operates Bluebridge, and said he is not ruling out redress from Maritime New Zealand.