5 May 2024

Enchanter fishing boat tragedy trial: Everything you need to know ahead of the upcoming trial

5:59 pm on 5 May 2024

By Shannon Pitman, Open Justice reporter of NZ Herald

Part of the Enchanter fishing vessel which sank off the North Cape.

Photo: Supplied / Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

In what was poised to be the ultimate adventure, a group of friends embarked on a journey they had eagerly awaited: a five-day fishing expedition aboard the Mangonui vessel The Enchanter.

For the band of avid anglers hailing from Cambridge and Te Awamutu, the excursion was more than just a getaway, it was a long-anticipated dream, meticulously planned over a year, with an estimated cost of $25,000 for the exclusive charter.

Under the ownership and operation of Lance Goodhew, a local of Coopers Beach, Enchanter Charters set sail with eight enthusiastic passengers and a dedicated deckhand, Kobe O'Neill. Their destination: the remote and rugged Manawatāwhi-Three Kings Islands, situated 80km up the coastline, promising three days of unparalleled fishing.

However, on the day slated for their return, the weather took a perilous turn. MetService issued an "orange warning", signalling rough seas, high winds, and heavy rain for the next 24 hours.

On March 20, 2022, Goodhew headed off from the Three Kings islands to bring the crew back to Mangonui, but as he rounded North Cape tragedy struck.

Lance Goodhew was the skipper of the vessel for the five-day fishing trip. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Lance Goodhew was the skipper of the vessel for the five-day fishing trip. Photo: NZ Herald / Mark Mitchell

A rogue 10m wave capsized the boat plunging the men, who weren't wearing life jackets, into the cold sea amid the remnants of a destroyed ship.

Miraculously in the chaos, an emergency beacon found its way to a piece of debris where two men clung. They desperately activated the beacon which set in motion what would become one of the most harrowing rescue missions undertaken by emergency services.

As sunset fell, it became apparent men were missing. It would take more than four agonising hours for emergency responders to reach the remaining survivors.

Shay Ward, Ben Stinson, Jayde Cook, Lance Goodhew and Kobe O'Neill were rescued from the water, but five friends lost their lives that night: Richard Bright, 63, Mike Lovett, 72, Geoffrey Allen, 72, Mark Walker, 41, and Mark Sanders, 43.

Northland Rescue Helicopters were later awarded the highest NZ Search and Rescue Awards accolade which they shared with Northland Police Search and Rescue Squad, Police National Dive Squad, Maritime New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre, crews of the Florence Nightingale and Pacific Invader, and Enchanter deckhand Kobe O'Neill.

Three inquiries were launched by Maritime NZ, Worksafe and The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) and charges were formally laid by Maritime NZ in the Kaitāia District Court against Goodhew and his company on April 13, 2023.

A helicopter crew rescues men from the wave-smashed charter-fishing vessel The Enchanter, skippered by Lance Goodhew.

A helicopter crew rescues men from the wave-smashed charter-fishing vessel The Enchanter, skippered by Lance Goodhew. Photo: NZ Herald / Supplied

The charges

Lance Goodhew resides in Coopers Bay and set up Enchanter Fishing Charters in 1995. His fishing charters are said to specialise in big game fishing and the qualified offshore master, also the director of L and M Goodhew Ltd, claims to be on the sea for 250 days of the year.

Goodhew is charged by Maritime New Zealand with breaching his duties as a worker on the vessel and in doing so, allegedly exposing individuals to a risk of death or serious injury. The charge carries a maximum penalty of a $150,000 fine.

His business, L and M Goodew Ltd, has been charged with a breach of the Maritime Transport Act in operating a ship without the prescribed qualified personnel by not having a current medical certificate at the time of the incident, which comes with a maximum penalty of a $100,000 fine.

The business is also charged with exposing individuals to the risk of death or serious injury carrying a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.

Goodhew entered a not-guilty plea on all charges and elected a judge-alone trial in August 2023. In the following months, multiple discussions between parties about the particulars of one charge delayed the process and eventually, failed to resolve.

The trial

The trial, beginning on Monday 6 May, is judge-alone, meaning no jury will be selected and one judge will hear all the evidence, decide the verdict and likely release the decision weeks after the trial finishes.

Judge Philip Rzepecky , who sits on the Te Tai Tokerau Justice service area, has been overseeing the case since early in its court phase and will be the judge determining the trial, scheduled for three weeks.

Although the incident occurred within the Far North district, making Katāia District Court the base for all charges, Judge Rzepecky directed the trial be heard in Whangārei District Court.

"The capacity in the court [Kaitāia] is the issue, there's only one court and it's used for everything. So you could end up waiting a long time for a fixture for your trial, which can then be interrupted quite often by issues that arise that need to be dealt with such as bail hearings etc.

"It would be in the interest of justice if there was not an inordinate delay," Judge Rzepecky said last August.

The Enchanter charter fishing vessel.

The Enchanter charter fishing vessel. Photo: enchanter.co.nz

Goodhew and The Enchanter are represented by Fletcher Pilditch KC, who was elected Kings Counsel in 2021, and Stacey Fraser.

Pilditch KC, lead counsel for the defence, has more than 22 years of experience in law and has been involved in multiple high-profile court cases including the recent Whakaari Island case.

Maritime NZ is represented by lead counsel, Sam McMullan, from Meredith Connell, and Richard Monigatti, from Maritime NZ, as junior counsel.

McMullan has led the prosecution on more than 100 trials including the recent trial against Ye Hua who laundered at least $18 million for the drug cartel Xavier Valent, and is now serving the longest prison term for money laundering ever handed down by a New Zealand court.

The victims

Mark Sanders, 43, a builder from Te Awamutu and father-of-three, perished in the sinking and was described as a "pretty popular, amazing guy". Sanders embarked on the trip with cautious optimism, mindful of the impending weather forecast. His family remembers his anticipation for the "trip of a lifetime".

The deaths of Geoffrey Allen, 72, and Mark Walker, 41, were a double tragedy for their devastated family. Walker, a husband and father to a newborn baby and 12-year-old daughter, was the family's provider, having recently purchased their first home. Allen, a father of four daughters, husband to Jean, and grandfather to Walker's newborn baby was a respected figure in Cambridge, known for supporting children with intellectual disabilities through the IHC.

The wreck of the Enchanter on the beach at Houhora Heads, Northland, following the second salvage attempt.

The wreck of the Enchanter on the beach at Houhora Heads, Northland, following the second salvage attempt. Photo: Supplied / Transport Accident Investigation Commission

Richard Bright, 63, owner of the Group One Turf Bar in Cambridge and father of two daughters, shared a jovial message with his wife before departing on the ill-fated trip - a picture of his last dinner in Mangonui the night before heading out. Their love story began in Ngāruawāhia and spanned four decades and various occupations before they realised their dream of opening a pub.

Mike Lovett, 72, a father-of-four and dedicated worker at a thoroughbred stud farm, was remembered as a "good bloke" and devoted family man. He had been a regular at Bright's pub in Cambridge for years and was known for his steadfast nature and likeable personality. The father of four adult children embodied the values of old-fashioned Kiwi life: reliability, a strong work ethic and commitment to his family.

- This story was first publised by the NZ Herald

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