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Port of Auckland given $500k fine over death of stevedore Pala’amo Kalati

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Port of Auckland has today been handed a $500,000 fine as it was sentenced over the death of stevedore Pala’amo Kalati.

Kalati was killed when a container fell on him on August 30, 2020. The 31-year-old was a father to seven. His death marked the fourth involving Port of Auckland Limited (POAL) since 2017.

The company pleaded guilty to two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act, which were filed by Maritime NZ.

In 2022, former POAL chief executive Tony Gibson pleaded not guilty to two charges in relation to Kalati’s death. The charges were unprecedented for an executive of a major New Zealand company and could bring $400,000 in fines, should Gibson be found guilty.

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Pala'amo Kalati (right) with wife Dro and six of their seven children: Jairus, Mischa, Azra, Braxton, Sarai and Iman. Kalati was killed at Port of Auckland in 2020.
Pala’amo Kalati (right) with wife Dro and six of their seven children: Jairus, Mischa, Azra, Braxton, Sarai and Iman. Kalati was killed at Port of Auckland in 2020.

Gibson’s trial was then delayed by two years, angering Kalati’s family and the maritime union.

In the meantime, after Kalati’s death, Maritime NZ launched a “comprehensive” investigation.

Maritime NZ director Kirstie Hewlett said the tragedy was brought about by POAL’s failures over stevedore safety.

“Those failures were long-standing and systemic, putting many stevedores at risk for an extended period of time,” Hewlett said.

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Former Port of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson has been charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Photo / Doug Sherring
Former Port of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson has been charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Photo / Doug Sherring

Before he died, Kalati and a colleague were working on board as lashers discharging containers from the MV Constantinos P.

A crane was operating next to the two men, lifting pairs of containers off the ship when it accidentally lifted a third. The third container came loose and fell, killing Kalati.

“While nothing can bring Mr Kalati back to his family or change the impact on his co-worker, who was also present,” Hewlett said. “This tragic incident as well as two other fatal incidents in April 2022, highlighted the need to review and make changes to health and safety on New Zealand ports.

“We want there to be a culture in the sector that reflects the need to take a safety-first approach to operations. Port workers need to be safe at work.”

‘Good to see POAL take responsibility’

Hewlett said it was “good to see POAL take responsibility for its actions and pleading guilty”, with the final fine of $561,000 handed down after a starting point of $850,000.

The court accepted a voluntary reparation made by POAL to the Kalati family as appropriate and did not award any additional reparation to them. A sum of $20,000 was awarded in reparation for emotional harm to the other impacted worker.

Gibson, meanwhile, is due to have his first hearing in 2024.

He was charged under Section 48 and 49 of the Health and Safety at Work Act which relate to offences of “failing to comply with duty that exposes individual to risk of death or serious injury or serious illness”.

Because Gibson, as port chief executive at the time, is an individual who is a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), or an officer of a PCBU, he could be fined up to $300,000 if found guilty of Section 48 and $100,000 if found guilty of Section 49.

He resigned as POAL’s chief executive in May 2021.

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There have been three other deaths involving POAL since 2017.

They were father of two Atiroa Tuaiti, 26, who died after being crushed by a container in 2022; Laboom Midnight Dyer, 23, who died in 2018 after a straddle carrier he was driving tipped over; and Leslie Gelberger, 45, who was struck and killed by a POAL pilot boat in 2017 while he was ocean swimming.

An independent review, published in March 2021, found there were systemic problems at POAL with health and safety.

Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.

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