Dolphin Watch Firm Escapes With $50,000 Fine For Injuring Tourist

Dolphin Watch Nature Eco Tours Ltd was today fined just $50,000 (NZ) for two Health and Safety offences in a Maritime NZ prosecution, and ordered to pay their victim an paultry $80,000 (NZ) in damages for injuries that are likely to stay with her for life.

Australian doctor, Catherine Carlyle, suffered severe lacerations when she was instructed to enter the water when dophin watching with the company in December 2010. in Ruakaka Bay, Marlborough Sounds.  Her legs were caught in the boat’s unprotected propellor blades. See our blog from December Australian Tourist Injured By Dophin Boat.

The femoral artery in her right leg was severed, she also broke both legs and received serious cuts and blood loss and has required skin grafts multiple times. She was lucky to have survived her injuries.

At the time of the incident a Blenheim based relative of the injured woman was reported in Stuff as saying:

“It’s absolutely hideous,” he said. “That it could ever happen is just crazy. It’s just bad news for New Zealand tourism. It’s just another activity New Zealand is renowned for that has now gone wrong. The safety issues need a really hard look at.”

Despite the company knowing there was a hazard from the propellors they did not control it:

“MNZ investigations manager Steve van der Splinter said the company knew there was an issue with the propellers still turning after the boat was placed in neutral.

“Despite identifying the hazard, the company took no practicable steps to control it,” he said.

Mr van der Splinter said the company told investigators they had inherited the safety system from the previous owners and assumed that it was adequate.”

Previous to the incident it is not known whether the dolphin watch company has ever undergone a safety audit by health and safety enforcement officers.

The Australian government currently issues the following precautionary advice to travellers to New Zealand

“Many tourists safely undertake adventure activities in New Zealand. However, many adventure tourism activities have inherent risks, and there have been a number of serious accidents involving Australians and other tourists, some resulting in deaths. Some operators have been found to be negligent. You should be aware that safety standards in New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry may differ between individual operators and may differ from those in Australia.

Travellers need to make their own careful judgements about the risks involved in individual or group activities and of the safety standards of individual operators. We strongly recommend travellers inquire with individual operators about the safety standards adhered to, whether these standards are applied across the industry and the risks involved in the activity. We recommend travellers hold travel insurance and complementary accident or income protection insurance and understand what circumstances and activities are not covered by the policies.”

There have been many serious injuries and deaths resulting from tourism activities in New Zealand, too many to go into in this post. If you want to find out more, or are headed to NZ and want to know what you’re letting yourself in for, read our Adventure tourism and safety facts page