Video: Father of killed Ports of Auckland worker was by his side after accident, both worked at port

The father of the 26-year-old stevedore who died at the Ports of Auckland yesterday was working on site with his son at the time of the accident.

Footage of Atiroa Snr Tuaiti crying over his son Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti’s body as it is loaded into a transport van in the Ports of Auckland (POAL) yard has emerged online.

The Herald has received permission to use the footage by Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti’s cousin, Ngati Nicholls, who posted the 12-minute video of scenes from the POAL yard to Facebook.

Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti died shortly after 9am yesterday after a “fall from height” while working for stevedore contracting company Wallace Investments.

Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti and his father were working at the port that morning, however it is understood Atiroa Snr Tuaiti was not in the direct vicinity of his son when he fell and did not witness it.

The somber footage from the port shows a haka being performed by Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti’s colleagues beneath drizzly rain surrounded by shipping containers.

The covered body of Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti can be seen being stroked by his father as it is about to be loaded into a van for transportation.

Nicholls was also working at POAL at the time and confirmed the footage contained the father and son.

“Atiroa is my cousin and we grew up together since we were kids, I am the tall person next to his father,” Nicholls said.

Killed POAL worker identified as new dad

Otara resident Atiroa Tuaiti’s death is the fourth involving port workers since 2017.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff described Tuaiti’s death as a tragedy, just 12 months after delivering an independent review into POAL that found systemic problems with health and safety at the council-owned business.

Then port chief executive Tony Gibson resigned a month later in May 2021, after intense media scrutiny and union pressure for him to vacate the role.

Tuaiti grew up on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, but moved to South Auckland during his teens and attended Mt Roskill Grammar. It is understood he has worked at the port for several years.

The 26-year-old welcomed his first son in October last year, and relatives have told the Herald of their grief for his utterly “heartbroken” partner Kura.

“He [Tuaiti] was a really good loving son, brother, cousin, uncle to many family out there – not forgetting a father to his handsome son and to his beautiful partner,” one relative told the Herald.

A Wallace Investments spokesperson confirmed they would investigate the death, and pledged to “fully cooperate” with Maritime NZ’s investigation.

“The company and staff are devastated and our immediate thoughts are with family and friends of the deceased,” Wallace Investments general manager Felix van Aalst said.

Maritime Union of New Zealand national secretary Craig Harrison called for a national inquiry into port safety.

The union understood Tuaiti had fallen while working on the container ship Capitaine Tasman, which is flying a Singaporean flag.

“If you look at our industry and you look around the country, you see there’s been multiple deaths and serious harm the last few years,” Harrison said.

“And it’s not a big industry. It’s not like the size of construction or anywhere near it. Yet we feature highly in serious harm and death. I think it’s an opportune time to look at our industry and see if it’s fit for purpose.”

Harrison said the wet conditions Tuesday morning at the port were nothing out of the usual for stevedores, and he could not speculate on the direct cause of the accident.

“It rains through the winter and they work seven days a week up to winds of about 40 knots. So it might contribute to it, but it’s not unusual to work in this sort of weather,” he said.

“It’s hard to really put the button on if there was a ‘harness culture’ or anything like that. I know it’s a dangerous environment and people are working at heights. So if there’s been a misjudgement or something like that I’m not too sure.”

However, Harrison defended the role of POAL in Tuesday’s death – clarifying that Wallace Investments stevedores were not POAL staff.

“There was nothing really in the POAL direct control that could have influenced this at all,” Harrison said.

Former union leader Shane Te Pou put his name to a letter calling for Gibson’s resignation in April last year, which was also signed by Auckland Council Independent Māori Statutory Board member Tau Henare, and Auckland councillor Efeso Collins.

Te Pou said the latest death came amid an ongoing “deregulation” of the labour market.

“There’s been a weakening of health and safety terms and conditions across work sites in New Zealand. [They’re] high risk ports and wharves and I think the union is quite right. We need to have a nationwide audit, a nationwide review. One death is one death too many.”

Te Pou said new POAL chief executive Roger Gray had been trying to foster a closer relationship with workers since being announced in the role in December. Gray has however only been in the job officially for a couple of weeks after taking on the CEO title on April 4.

“The new CEO has, as I understand it, become very engaged with the staff, so he will be devastated. They [staff] will be devastated. But I think the relationship is better than the last CEO,” Te Pou said.

Tuaiti’s death adds to a string of tragedies and serious injuries at POAL in recent years.

In August 2020, father-of-seven Palaamo Kalati, 31, a stevedore, was crushed to death by a container on a ship at the Fergusson Container Terminal.

In 2018, 23-year-old Laboom Midnight Dyer died after a straddle carrier he was driving tipped over.

In July, 2020, POAL was fined $242,000 for failing to comply with health and safety duties after a pilot boat accidentally struck and killed ocean swimmer Leslie Gelberger in 2017.

Gelberger’s widow Laura McLeod welcomed the POAL safety review when it was released in March last year.

“The fact that there have been two further deaths since the death of my husband, which itself was a product of a culture that prioritises productivity over welfare, is heartbreaking,” McLeod said then.

“How many deaths does it take to have them concretely change their ways and, as recommended, prioritise safety over profits?”

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