For 7-year-old Tutteto Junior Lapana Tupou, the report into safety inspections of the Taio Shipping vessels came too late.
The July Taio Shipping assessment conducted by Maritime New Zealand was received by the Ministry of Transport in September 2019 – the same week little Lapana disappeared overboard from the MV Lady Moana.
Based on issues raised in the report, passenger travel restrictions and conditions were then issued to the shipping company.
Brought up in South Auckland, Tupou had been enjoying a holiday on his family island of Rakahanga with his father Junior. He was reported missing on the MV Lady Moana, near Aitutaki, while en route to Rarotonga.
An extensive search was carried out for Tupou that included 16 fishing boats from the island of Aitutaki, the police boat Te Kukupa, and the Rescue Coordination Centre in New Zealand who assisted with modelling of the search area.
The month after Tupou’s disappearance, Taio’s ships the Lady Moana, Grinna II and Maungaroa II were all temporarily detained in Rarotonga’s Avatiu harbour by Ministry of Transport investigators while attempts were made to remedy safety concerns.
Pressure is growing on Taio Shipping, over safety on the company’s three ships inter-island vessels. Cook Islands News has learned of another incident, last month, where a Fijian crew member was injured by a crane on the deck of one of Taio’s ships.
“Inspections of all domestic vessels was conducted in July 2019,” transport secretary John Hosking said yesterday. “The final safety inspections report was received in September 2019 from Maritime New Zealand, the same week the accident occurred on board Lady Moana.”
The deficiencies of safety and compliance standards were received by Taio Shipping Limited, and they have addressed these accordingly over a period of time, said Hosking.
Taio Shipping director Josiah Taio had earlier confirmed that surveyors had identified some “deficiencies” in the three boats, which required repairs.
Following Tupou’s tragic disappearance, a further investigation of the Taio Shipping vessels by the Maritime Division was completed at the end of October.
That draft report was concluded in November 2019 – but has still not been published. Hosking said: “In accordance with the Casualty Investigation Code 2008 Edition, a draft report must be furnished to Taio Shipping Limited for comments to be submitted within 30 days of receiving.”
Hosking said that as the report was not yet finalised, he was unable to release details of its findings. He said the Ministry of Transport was following up with Taio Shipping for a response to the draft report.
If no comments were received from the company at the expiry of 30 days, the Maritime Division would then finalise the maritime safety investigation report.
Details of the circumstances of the tragic disappearance of Tupou, and responsibility for his loss, were contained within the draft report.
But Hosking said the maritime safety investigations would not seek to apportion blame or determine liability. Their focus was to prevent further casualties and incidents in the future.
Hosking confirmed the MV Grinna II was approved to carry 12 passengers as according to the safety certificate issued under the ship registry. MV Lady Moana and MV Maungaroa II are now registered for cargo operation only.
Transport is responsible for safety checks and pre-departure checks and inspections on vessels for over-loading of passengers, cargo and dangerous goods. These assessments are conducted prior to vessels leaving Avatiu Port.
Annual safety checks and the issue of safety certificates are delegated to Maritime Cook Islands, and this included carrying out surveys and inspections. Maritime Cook Islands had contracted Maritiime NZ to do last year’s inspections.
Safety certificates of vessels are renewed every five years; MV Lady Moana’s certificate was renewed on August 9 2019, following its dry dock and inspection in Tahiti.
Police spokesman Trevor Pitt said the final report into the disappearance of Tupou would be provided to the Coroner, for an inquest into responsibility for Tupou’s death.
The timeframe was not yet certain, due to the scope of interviews still required.