Company fined $25,000 over dramatic boat fire
THE company that owned a passenger vessel that caught fire and burnt to the waterline with 42 paying customers and four crew members on board has been fined $25,000.
Panforta Pty Ltd - trading as 1770 Great Barrier Reef Cruises Pty Ltd - pleaded guilty to operating the vessel despite knowing its main engines, which sparked the blaze, were defective and had been illegally ordering its skippers to beach the vessel.
And one of its directors tried using false documents featuring a forged signature.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority investigated the fire on the Spirit of 1770 on May 11, 2016, and recommended a charge against the company, Panforta Pty Ltd - trading as 1770 Great Barrier Reef Cruises Pty Ltd.
Passengers jumped for their lives after the vessel burst into flames as it returned from Lady Musgrave Island.
The charge was pursued by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
Last week, the company pleaded guilty in Brisbane Magistrates Court to one count of reckless operation of a commercial vessel, risking the safety of the vessel and the people on board, under the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012.
The offence related to the company knowingly allowing Spirit of 1770 to be operated despite the vessel having serious and repeated overheating issues with its main engines.
During the investigation, AMSA also discovered that multiple masters who were skippering Spirit of 1770 had been directed by the company to beach the vessel in Round Hill Creek during low tides to allow passengers to be transferred on and off the vessel, instead of waiting for the tide to come in.
That was despite being given explicit advice from Maritime Safety Queensland not to beach the vessel.
The vessel was not built for beaching manoeuvres, which over time can compromise the structural integrity causing damage to the vessel.
One of the company's directors also allegedly provided false documentation to investigators about the beaching manoeuvres in the form of a Safety Management System with a forged signature falsely attributed to a former operations manager for the company.
AMSA operations general Manager Allan Schwartz said the company had ignored expert advice about operating the vessel within its limits, placing the safety everyone on board at risk.
"It is incredibly fortunate that no lives were lost when Spirit of 1770 caught fire," Mr Schwartz said.
"The company was reckless in ignoring the vessel's maintenance issues and they endangered the lives of everyone on-board by continuing to operate," he said.
"We know that the vast majority of operators take the safety of their passengers and crew seriously. This incident should be a lesson for those who do not, that ignoring your duty of care can have very serious consequences."
The owner of Lady Musgrave Cruises at the time of the fire, John Clayton, was locked in a legal battle with insurer QBE over his claim following the blaze.
In October 2017, QBE Insurance Australia told the NewsMail the claim was taking longer to resolve than usual due to its complex nature and ongoing investigations by the insurer and authorities.
"There are a number of pieces of information relating to the claim, which have yet to be provided," a spokeswoman said.
"This includes findings of an investigation conducted by a marine authority into the incident and confirmation of alleged criminal proceedings relating to the incident."