A Wellington fishing company has been hit with more than half a million dollars in fines and reparations over a boat so grossly overloaded it sank quickly.
Nino's Limited, its only director and the boat's skipper, were sentenced in the Wellington district court today.
The boat, Victory II, had 28 tonnes of fish on board whereas its limit was five tonnes, when it sank near Kaikōura in June 2017, Maritime New Zealand's central region compliance manager Michael-Paul Abbott said.
"That is like putting 20 medium-sized cars onto a small fishing boat," he said.
"The boat sank in only two minutes. The four men on-board were very fortunate to be rescued.
"This trip could have ended in tragedy and the lives of the crew were unnecessarily put in danger."
The boat had been fishing for three days, and was returning to Wellington, but its back deck got so low it flooded and the vessel began to sink.
"The vessel sank so quickly that the four men did not have enough time to put on their lifejackets," Maritime NZ said.
It is the first time Maritime New Zealand has prosecuted a company officer under the health and safety laws brought in in 2016 in response to the Pike River mine disaster.
"It is also important people understand that company officials, not only the skipper, are responsible for the safety of all the people on board a ship or a boat," said Abbott.
The director Antonio Basile, and the vessel's master, Shane McCauley, had pleaded guilty to three charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act; the company pleaded guilty to two charges under the Maritime Transport Act.
The penalties include $65,000 in unpaid wages to two crew; the law says crew must be paid for up to two months after a sinking. One of the crew was owed 47 days' wages and the other 12 days.
The Maritime NZ investigation found that for a year before the sinking the boat was overloaded many times, with its smallest catch at 5.5 tonnes and its largest 27 tonnes.
Nino Limited director Antonio Basile refused to comment.
Abbott said the company operated other fishing boats.
The regulator had no evidence that overloading was a common practice in the fishing industry, he said.