Judge retires in Enchanter trial, asked to weigh up 'utterly extraordinary and unpredictable event'

A Northland judge has reserved his decision in the high-profile trial of skipper Lance Goodhew, who was at the helm of the Enchanter when a rogue wave hit, claiming the lives of five Waikato charter clients.

"This has been an intense case, behind it is a terrible tragedy," Judge Philip Rzepecky told a packed Whangarei courtroom as he wound up the three week trial.

"I acknowledge those who have lost their lives, the effect of grief on their families, and also the ongoing trauma for those who survived and indeed Mr Goodhew. That has been brought to life in this court," he added. 

The Enchanter skipper was one of five survivors following the March 2022 capsize of the vessel near Murimotu Island off North Cape.

In closing arguments on Tuesday, Maritime New Zealand reiterated the skipper of the 16-metre Enchanter should never have left the Three Kings Islands on the afternoon of Sunday, March 20, 2022.

Lance Goodhew is charged with breaching his duties, allegedly exposing individuals to a risk of death or serious injury. The charge carries a maximum penalty of a $150,000 fine.

Maritime NZ prosecutor Sam McMullan said he had "narrowed the particulars he was relying on for a guilty verdict".

He said if, for a guilty verdict he must prove Lance Goodhew could've foreseen at 1:30pm when he left on the journey home that a giant 10-metre wave was likely later that night, then on that basis alone its case is "weak."

However, he said having read the MetService forecast of 40-knot winds and swells of 4-6 metres, a 'reasonably prudent mariner' would have known a large wave might hit.

"He was heading for an area known as the ferocious North Cape. He chose to pass too close behind a weather system.

"There was no good reason to depart, given the forecasts, leaving meant exposing those on board to danger and so it came to pass, a 10-metre wave capsized the Enchanter."

Geoffrey James Allen, 72, Michael Patrick Lovett, 72, Richard Eldon Bright, 63, and Mark Keith Walker, 41, all from Cambridge, and Mark Kenneth Sanders, 43, from Te Awamutu all died.

In his closing argument, Goodhew's lawyer Fletcher Pilditch KC said Maritime NZ's "prosecution from the outset has been a misguided attempt to shoot home a criminal liability for something neither he nor any reasonable mariner in his situation would have the ability to control".

He said Maritime New Zealand was basing its case only around the MetService forecast that weekend when a significant front had passed over Northland.

Goodhew used a forecasting system known as Predict Wind, as well as the MetService forecast distributed on Far North Radio.

He said his client had "better access to forecasting than many other reasonable prudent mariners."

"Mr Goodhew did do all those things he could do to influence and control the risk. But what he could not influence or control was the utterly extraordinary and unpredictable event that led to the capsize of the Enchanter and the tragic loss of five lives.

"Clearly no one can control and influence the sea. It is unpredictable and we are guests there," Pilditch KC said in his closing argument.

Survivors Shay Ward, Ben Stinson, Jayde Cook and deckhand Kobe O'Neill told the trial in its opening days, conditions had eased to 1.5-2metre swells on the journey home and the group was showering and cooking when the "wall of water" hit around 7:50pm.

Pilditch KC said Goodhew knew the front was coming through, and planned they would sleep in, stay in Little Bear Bay and after a late breakfast proceed to the Princes group, which showed the actions of a "careful skipper."

Judge Rzepecky said he would reserve his decision until July 22, but would not say whether it would be a written decision or delivered in court.