Boatie who sank Waitere ferry pleads guilty

Passengers on the stricken Waitere are helped onto another ferry on 13 April 2023. The damaged vessel sank about an hour later.

Passengers on the stricken Waitere are helped onto another ferry. The damaged vessel sank about an hour later.
Photo: Supplied

An Auckland boatie has pleaded guilty to charges of dangerously operating a vessel over a crash that sank a Russell ferry and critically injured its skipper.

The historic ferry Waitere sank shortly after the collision with a high-powered sports fishing boat near Russell in April last year.

The 77-year-old skipper of the ferry suffered life-threatening head and spinal injuries, and at least one passenger was thrown into the water.

At the Auckland District Court on Monday, James Petrie Thomson pleaded guilty to the two charges. He was remanded at large and will be sentenced in June.

The charges are laid under the collision prevention rules of the Maritime Transport Act 1994 and carry a maximum penalty of 12 months’ jail or a $10,000 fine.

The prosecutor for Maritime New Zealand indicated to Judge Simon Lance the Crown entity would only be seeking the fine as a penalty.

The collision pierced the port side of the Waitere, demolished the wheelhouse where the skipper was sitting, and scattered fragments of timber the length of the ferry.

Witnesses said a motorboat crashed into the side of the Paihia-Russell ferry, causing major damage to the latter’s port side. A passenger on the ferry involved in the collision described it as a “massive launch” coming full throttle straight towards the side of ferry before it crashed.

Those on board the ferry said it was remarkable no one else was injured, given the force of the impact and the fact the Waitere was crowded with school holiday visitors at the time.

The skipper Bill Elliot and his wife, Lois Elliot, had run the business since 1999. Lois told Checkpoint her husband had never been involved in a boating accident before.

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