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Navy Statement On Death Of AHSO Byron Solomon

New Zealand Defence Force
Te Ope Kaatua O Aotearoa

Media Statement

17 April 2008

Statement From Chief Of Navy Rear Admiral David Ledson Regarding The Release Of The Findings Of The Court Of Inquiry Into The Death Of AHSO Byron Solomon

On behalf of the Royal New Zealand Navy and wider New Zealand Defence Force I extend my deepest sympathies to the family and whanau of AHSO Byron Solomon.

While the Navy lost a young Sailor, which affected all of us in the Navy deeply, especially those who served with Byron in CANTERBURY, the effects of Byron’s death on the Solomon family have been – and I know, continue to be - very keenly felt.

The release today of the findings of the Court of Inquiry into the accident resulting in the capsizing of a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) from HMNZS CANTERBURY and the consequential death of Byron Solomon is the culmination of an extensive and comprehensive investigation.

It has taken some time to reach this stage, and I thank the many interested parties for their patience and their sensitivity.

The length of the process is due to a number of factors, including: the complexity of some of the issues; the need to step carefully through the process itself; and our absolute desire to learn everything that we can from this tragedy so that circumstances of this nature are unlikely to arise again.

The Inquiry found there were two key contributing factors that, occurring concurrently, caused the RHIB to broach:

• First, the unexplained release of a quick release (Gibb) shackle, and then

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• A damaged manually operated offload release hook that was unable to be released from the RHIB in time to prevent it capsizing.

Both these issues have been addressed with the removal from service of the Gibb shackle in CANTERBURY and the replacement of the offload release hook.

There is evidence that unexplained releases of this shackle have happened before, but without the same catastrophic consequences. Consequently, it is also intended to replace the Gibb shackle across the fleet as soon as an appropriate alternative arrangement has been identified.

There is an inherent risk in much of what we do as a Navy. We must ensure our training replicates the conditions and environments our personnel may find themselves operating in. These include, for example, boarding operations onto fishing boats around New Zealand to boarding operations onto dhows in the Middle East.

However, within those margins of risk we must also strive to operate as safely as possible.

I accept fully all of the recommendations made as a result of the Inquiry. The Navy has already set about addressing all of them.

In addition, subsequent to the inquiry’s findings I ordered an audit of the Navy’s seamanship standards. This identified opportunities for improvement. Where recommendations have been made to improve safety and performance these are being implemented.

In the context of this tragedy a number of the ship’s crew performed bravely after the RHIB capsized in an effort to free Byron. Their actions are consistent with Navy’s values of courage, comradeship and commitment and as the Court of Inquiry noted, one Sailor in particular attempted a rescue of Byron with ‘significant risk to his own safety.’

The Inquiry found that everyone onboard the CANTERBURY on that day acted appropriately and as they had been trained. Consequently, no one will face disciplinary action for what was a specific incident that occurred after an unexpected and unforeseeable sequence of events ended with such a tragic outcome.

I am determined – as is everyone else in the Navy – to do everything we can to ensure that such a sequence of events cannot happen again.

I remain confident that the ship brings a valuable and unique capability to the Navy, the Defence Force and the country.


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