Very early on the morning of August 30 last year, Pala'amo "Amo" Kalati was crushed to death by a container at the Ports of Auckland. Now, for the first time since then, his family is speaking out about how the Auckland Council-owned company treated them in the hours and months following the death.
Kalati was 31 and had only been a stevedore at the ports for a few months before he was fatally injured onboard a ship at the Fergusson Container Terminal at about 2am.
Because the death had occurred on a ship, Maritime New Zealand, rather than WorkSafe, is undertaking an investigation with police into the death.
Gareth Fraser was the brother-in-law of Kalati, who is also survived by his seven children.
Fraser told Breakfast his sister Dro was up most of the night of August 30 talking to her husband during his breaks.
He said between 2.30 to 3am that day, Kalati’s brother was told of the fatal injury. Kalati’s brother then called Dro to tell her the news.
Fraser said the death was a “massive, massive shock to the family”.
The family were invited to go to the ports at about 3pm.
“We got herded into three vans. Nobody at the time could tell us what was going on. But, they were having difficulty getting his body off the ship. So, we just waited and waited and waited,” Fraser said.
The grieving family ended up waiting about three hours in the cold as Kalati’s body was moved.
Fraser said the ordeal and the lack of communication from the ports were “frustrating”.
He said the family hadn’t been told to prepare to wait. In the end, he had to ask the ports for help before they were given any.
“It was disgusting. It was really really appalling how we were treated initially.”
Kalati’s funeral was held on September 7. The day before, Ports of Auckland posted on its Facebook page: “We are all absolutely devastated by the death of a member of our port whānau, Pala’amo (Amo) Kalati last Sunday morning.
“Our love and prayers are with his family and friends, and we will continue to stand alongside them to give our support.
“We are a big whānau here at the port, so everyone is deeply affected by what has happened. All of our staff have been offered access to counselling services, which will be available for as long as necessary.
“As an organisation we care deeply about the safety and wellbeing of our staff.”
Three days after the funeral, Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson and a number of members of the ports’ head office told the family they wanted to pay Dro a visit to her house, Fraser said.
When Fraser asked what the visit was for, and asked whether he needed legal representation, he said he was told it was purely for the purposes of closing off funeral processions.
But, he said once the group were at the house, they offered to set up an education fund “in the hope we could settle something”.
“I was gobsmacked. I was astonished … I couldn't believe that they had made that offer then and there.”
He said it was evident at the time his sister wasn’t in a state to be able to consider any offer properly.
But he said Gibson had been “amazing” since Kalati’s death, and had offered a lot of support to the family.
Gibson was constrained for the meantime as Maritime New Zealand continued its investigation, he added.
Review details Ports of Auckland’s systemic health and safety issues
Kalati‘s death came less than two weeks after the ports admitted a health and safety charge at the Auckland District Court, following the death of Laboom Dyer, a 23-year-old straddle crane driver, in 2018.
Dyer died on the job in the early hours of August 27, 2018, after his crane tipped. Ports of Auckland was fined $540,000 by the Auckland District Court following the death.
Fraser said at no point did Ports of Auckland representatives mention Dyer’s case, and that the family only found out about it through doing their own research.
In April 2017, Auckland man Leslie Gelberger was fatally struck by a speeding Ports of Auckland pilot boat while he was swimming off a North Shore beach.
Following the three deaths, an independent review released last month found the ports had a culture of prioritising productivity over safety, as well as systemic health and safety problems.
Two of the findings from the Auckland Council-commissioned review were relevant to night shift workers.
The review found that night shift workers felt there was a potentially different culture at night where control adherence differed from training and procedures, in particular for high-risk work such as lashing.
“This was exacerbated with lower levels of supervision and oversight by the health and safety function.”
They also perceived “that there are times where inconsistency in resourcing levels compromises the ability to work safely”.
Fraser said his sister, at times, still hopes it was all a bad dream — that Kalati will return home one day.
He said Kalati, the “life of the party”, was “loved by many”. Kalati was also active in the community and volunteered his time to sports coaching and after school education.
“In 2020, 2021, this should not happen. The fact that it has is appalling,” he said of the Ports of Auckland’s safety record.
He said the review’s findings were “quite sad” and showed the ports “choose profit over people”.
Ports of Auckland refuses to front
Breakfast asked Gibson to appear on the show for an interview today.
Yesterday, the ports replied by email with a two-sentence statement: “Thank you for the opportunity. However, we will not attend the interview tomorrow.”
When Breakfast asked for a statement in response to Fraser, the ports replied only with: “Not at this time. Thanks.”
The company finally issued an unattributed statement this afternoon.
"Ports of Auckland is deeply saddened by the death of Pala’amo (Amo) Kalati. We are sorry the family didn’t feel enough support was provided on the day of the incident. The port has offered support to the family and we continue to check in with them on a regular basis," the statement read.
"While we understand fully the need for answers, we are unable to comment further on the details of the accident while the investigation by Maritime NZ is still in progress."
Maritime New Zealand said in a statement: “We’d like to express our deepest sympathies to Pala’amo Kalati’s family.
“Maritime NZ’s investigation into Mr Kalati’s death in August last year is nearing its completion, but at this stage is still likely to be some weeks away.
“We have interviewed the key parties involved and are in the process of reviewing all of the information before we make a decision about what further action will be taken.
“As the investigation is ongoing, we’re unable to comment further at this stage.”