Dive operator sentenced after propeller death

Whangarei diving company The Dive Spot Limited has been fined $50,000 and co-director and skipper Mark Andrew Barnes fined $25,000 after the death of diver Bruce Porter on 7 February 2014.

Reparations of $50,000 and $30,000 are also to be paid by The Dive Spot Limited and Mr Barnes, respectively.

Mr Porter died after being struck by a propeller while on a diving trip to the Poor Knights Islands.

Maritime New Zealand prosecuted the company and Mr Barnes under sections 15 and 19 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction at work caused harm to any person.

Both parties pleaded guilty to the charges and were sentenced in Whangarei District Court today (10 June 2015).

The incident occurred after the anchor of the vessel Pacific Hideaway became snagged on the third dive of the trip.

Mr Barnes asked Mr Porter to dive down to unsnag the anchor, but a crewman on board the vessel then freed the anchor using the winch.

Mr Barnes believed Mr Porter understood there was no need to dive, but due to a miscommunication between Mr Porter and Mr Barnes, Mr Porter had entered the water and was struck by the propeller when the vessel’s engines were put into gear.

Maritime New Zealand Deputy Director Lindsay Sturt said the tragic incident was entirely avoidable. The risk from propellers was not included in the vessel’s hazard register, nor was it mentioned in the briefing for divers on the day of the accident.

In addition, the company did not have a clear system of communicating with divers about their entry into the water, nor did it have a clear policy that passenger divers were never asked to dive to free anchors.

“Propeller strike is one of the key risks for those operating a dive operation and that risk must be managed through effective safety processes,” he said.

“The consequences of having divers in the water when propellers are turning can be catastrophic, as they were in this case. Those operating commercial charter dive operations have an absolute responsibility to ensure they are operating safely.

“That includes ensuring that recreational divers are fully briefed before they enter the water and that good communication is maintained at all times.”

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