Ports of Auckland fined more than $420k after boat hit swimmer

5:03 pm on 24 July 2020

Ports of Auckland has been fined over $420,000 after one of its vessels struck and killed a swimmer off Auckland's North Shore in April 2017.

Narrow Neck Beach on Auckland's North Shore.

A view of Rangitoto Island from Narrowneck Beach. Photo: 123RF

Husband and father Leslie Gelberger died after he was struck by a pilot boat while swimming near Narrowneck Beach on the North Shore in 2017.

His body was found in Mairangi Bay. The impact severed his right leg, his lower left leg and caused blunt-force injuries to his head, neck torso and right arm.

In Auckland District Court today, the ports company was fined $424,000 while the boat's master, Grant More, was fined $8400.

More and the deck hand both said they had not seen Gelberger, but they heard a bang which they thought was a mechanical fault.

Ports of Auckland admitted it had put people's lives at risk because its pilot boats consistently breached speed limits because, it said, they believed they were exempt.

Vessels are not supposed to travel faster than 5 knots when closer than 200m to shore, and must keep to a 12-knot limit between the Harbour Bridge and North Head.

Ports of Auckland vessels are allowed to breach these limits if they cannot otherwise carry out their duties, but this exemption only applies in limited circumstances.

The company was found to have breached the rules on about 99 percent of its trips.

Lawyer John Billington claimed the company had misinterpreted the rules but Judge Kevin Phillips said the boats had "relentlessly" breached the speed restrictions and a red flag should have been raised.

"It's just obvious that the speeds they were travelling at was creating risk," he said.

Members of Gelberger's family, including his wife, attended the sentencing. His parents monitored proceedings via audio-visual link from their home in Canada.

Judge Phillips acknowledged the huge impact Gelberger's death had on the family.

Ports of Auckland has previously agreed to pay them $220,000 in reparations.

Maritime NZ, which brought the charges, welcomed today's sentence.

Director Keith Manch said the message was clear: less speed, less harm.

"Responsibility is on both employers and workers - here that is the Ports of Auckland and the master of one of its pilot boats.

"Ports of Auckland had inadequate systems to ensure its vessels did not break speed limits, and they did more than 4200 times in nine months."