A fishing vessel, Jan, has run aground and sank in New Zealand after crew fatigue.

Its owner, Wild Fish (NZ) Limited has been fined NZ$27,200 ($18,300) following prosecution by Maritime NZ.

According to maritime executive, the sole helmsman at the time of the grounding, a 17-year-old deckhand, fell asleep soon after going on watch in the early hours of January 11, 2016.

He had worked a full day, slept for between one hour and three-and-a-quarter hours, and was then woken to take his turn on watch. He had never before been on watch by himself at night.

After the helmsman fell asleep, Jan ran on autopilot and grounded on rocks near Howe Point in the Bay of Islands. The grounding woke the skipper and the other crew. The skipper ordered the crew to abandon ship due to the hull being breached and water ingress. Jan then capsized and was a total loss.

In 2011, following the grounding of another of its vessels, Den Bearg, Wild Fish Limited had installed watch alarms on its fleet. Watch alarms sound periodically to prevent a crew member on watch from falling asleep. However, Wild Fish Limited did not inform the crew of Jan that a watch alarm had been installed on the vessel and did not train the skipper or crew to use it.

Maritime NZ told the court that Wild Fish Limited had acted recklessly. There was no effective system for monitoring the sleep of crew members to ensure that overly fatigued crew did not go on watch. Exacerbating the situation, a crew member with limited watch-keeping experience was permitted to go on watch alone. His fatigue level heightened the risk of him falling asleep on watch, and there was no mechanism or work procedure to wake him if he did.

Fatigue is one of the biggest factors causing injuries on fishing vessels. Maritime NZ cites some statistics about commercial fishing crew:

In June last year Maritime NZ and the fishing industry began working together on a three-year safety campaign “Safe crews fish more.” Its aim is to reduce injuries. Managing fatigue is one of the key areas it is addressing.