Dive Operator Sentenced after Propeller Death

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

June 10, 2015

A New Zealand dive operator and skipper have been sentenced for the February 2014 death of a diver struck by a propeller while on a trip to the Poor Knights Islands, Maritime New Zealand announced.
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 February 7, 2014. Reparations of $50,000 and $30,000 are also to be paid by The Dive Spot Limited and Barnes, respectively.
Maritime New Zealand prosecuted the company and 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 on June 10, 2015.
The incident occurred after the anchor of the vessel Pacific Hideaway became snagged on the third dive of the trip. Barnes asked Porter to dive down to unsnag the anchor, but a crewman on board the vessel then freed the anchor using the winch. Barnes believed Porter understood there was no need to dive, but a miscommunication led Porter to enter the water where he 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,” Sturt 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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