Sailing charter director fined for falling asleep at wheel

The director of Wellington-based Megisti Sailing Charters has been fined NZ$2,500 (US$1,600) in the Wellington District Court for being asleep at the wheel of catamaran MV Megisti when it collided with the Port Howard Wharf in New Zealand.

Timothy James Newman was asleep for about 20 minutes as Megisti motored with no one in control through one of the busiest parts of Wellington Harbour.

Maritime NZ Central Compliance Manager Michael-Paul Abbott said that Newman was severely fatigued and was the only person on board at the time of the collision, which occurred at 08:00 on November 16th 2017.

Newman pleaded guilty to one charge under the Maritime Transport Act of operating a ship in a way that caused unnecessary danger or risk to people and property.

In the period leading up to the collision Newman had developed a broken sleeping pattern. He slept on board Megisti at Queens Wharf, often being woken by people leaving nearby pubs and restaurants and by late night and early morning phone calls from people booking charters.

The day before the collision he made three charter voyages before berthing at Queen’s Wharf and then having several beers. He slept on board for nearly six hours. He skippered Megisti under power (not using its sails) across the harbour, planning to arrive at the Seaview Marina next to Point Howard at about 08:00. He fell asleep shortly after changing course at the southern end of Matiu/Somes Island.

Megisti continued under autopilot until colliding with the wharf, which woke Newman.

The collision caused significant damage to the catamaran.

Although the wharf carries a fuel line used to offload oil from tankers berthed in Wellington Harbour, fortunately no damage to the fuel line resulted from the incident.