Mount Maunganui boat crash: Skipper who fell asleep at the wheel fined $7,000

Asleep at the wheel, Miss Fleur skipper Esmond O’Reilly crashed into rocks at the foot of Mauao. Photo / Provided

It was almost midnight and Esmond O’Reilly had been tending the Miss Fleur for 4 p.m. when he fell asleep at the wheel of the boat, steering it to the foot of Mount Maunganui.

Now the Tauranga man has escaped a hefty fine for the crash that forced the occupants to abandon ship, as a judge ruled he couldn’t afford to pay it.

The chartered fishing vessel was lost in the January 2020 crash but luckily no one was injured.

The company and O’Reilly were later charged under the Shipping Act, and charges were also filed under health and safety legislation.

O’Reilly was charged with exposing people to risk of death or serious injury, failing to maintain proper supervision and operating the ship outside the prescribed limits that apply to the coastal waters of the Bay of Plenty. He pleaded guilty to all three counts.

According to the summary of facts, the vessel left the port of Tauranga for a day of fishing around 7 a.m. on January 31.

O’Reilly had initially indicated that the group would return to port around 6:30 p.m., which was reported to company owner Aaron Jones.

By 7 p.m., Jones had received no communication from the ship and decided to text O’Reilly asking what time he intended to return.

O’Reilly replied that the charter was overdue and intended to return to port around 11 p.m.

It was on his return to the port of Tauranga that O’Reilly fell asleep and collided with Mauao Base, near the base runway.

An investigation was then launched by Maritime New Zealand and charges followed.

The ship was later salvaged but deemed unsalvageable.  Photo/NZME
The ship was later salvaged but deemed unsalvageable. Photo/NZME

Early guilty pleas were entered for both counts in the Maritimes, but O’Reilly pleaded guilty at the last minute to the charge of exposing people to risk of harm.

“For reasons not fully explained, Mr. O’Reilly brought the prosecutor to the brink of a trial by judge alone and pleaded guilty the same day,” Judge Paul Mabey said during sentencing. Wednesday.

Beginning with a starting sentence of a $50,000 fine, which was reduced by 15% due to O’Reilly’s guilty pleas.

This reduced the fine to $42,500, “but that figure is largely theoretical,” the judge said.

The court heard that O’Reilly had previously spent time in jail for drug offenses.

He is currently unemployed and has no assets to his name.

“Mr O’Reilly is currently on Jobseeker’s Allowance which pays him just over $350 [per week].

“He is indeed without means. But he wants to work, and at 54 years old with his career and his experience, we can expect him to find work.

“I’m not going to let Mr O’Reilly off without a penalty, there must be something he needs to pay for.

“It will be impossible while he is on a social benefit, but when he is working he can deal with the fine service and nibble on it.”

Judge Mabey fined the skipper a total of $7,000, which can be paid on a weekly basis.

The company, Tauranga Fishing Charters, was convicted but released without conviction in February.

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