May 12, 2022

“Pray for all these families” – Port workers gather to honor Atiroa Tuaiti who died

Workers at Auckland Ports serving the slain longshoreman Atiroa Tuaiti on April 21, 2022.

The Auckland Ports container yard where a 26-year-old stevedore died earlier this week was this morning packed with a sea of ​​high-visibility invested workers singing Pasifika hymns in a service to their lost colleague.

Atiroa Tuaiti, a resident of Ōtara, died shortly after 9 a.m. on Tuesday after “falling from a height” while working on a docked Singaporean container ship.

Many of Tuaiti’s family were also present at the service today, having walked through the doors to meet Auckland Ports staff and management.

The Cook Islands-born stevedore had a baby boy just a few months old and his own father, Atiroa Snr Tuaiti, was working locally at the port at the time of the accident.

Leading today’s service and blessing of the site was Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei elder Taiaha Hawke.

There were also four other Maori speakers and a Rarotongan speaker on behalf of the whānau.

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Port workers in the service of the slain longshoreman Atiroa Tuaiti.

Auckland Ports Chief Executive Roger Gray, who has only been in the job for two weeks, was also present.

It is understood that Gray also addressed stevedores at Auckland Ports on the day Tuaiti died.

The young father is the fourth death in five years at Auckland Ports.

In a video from the service uploaded to Facebook, a woman who appears to be a relative of Tuaiti describes the scenes outside Auckland’s ports this morning.

“We are right in downtown Auckland Ports. Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti’s family meet Auckland Ports today. We’re just going to bless the site. There’s the whole family here,” says- she.

As they walk through the containers and trucks parked inside Auckland Port yards, the relative says, “Please pray for all these families. This is really dangerous work.”

Father at the scene of the accident

Earlier this week, footage of Atiroa Snr Tuaiti crying over the body of her son Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti as it is loaded into a transport van in the Auckland Harbors yard surfaced online.

The Herald has received permission to use the April 19 footage from Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti’s cousin, Ngati Nicholls, who posted the 12-minute video of scenes from the Auckland Ports construction site on Facebook.

Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti and his father were working at the port that morning, but it is understood that Atiroa Snr Tuaiti was not in close proximity to where his son fell and did not witness it.

Dark footage from the port shows a haka performed by Atiora Jnr Tuaiti’s colleagues in light rain surrounded by shipping containers.

Atiroa Jnr Tuaiti’s covered body can be seen being fondled by his father as he is about to be loaded into a van.

Fourth tragedy since 2017

The death of Atiroa Tuaiti, a resident of Ōtara, is the fourth involving port workers since 2017.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has described Tuaiti’s death as a tragedy, just 12 months after delivering an independent review of Auckland Ports which found systemic health and safety issues at the government-owned business. advice.

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

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

Atiroa Tuaiti died in a fall at the ports of Auckland on Tuesday.  Photo / Provided
Atiroa Tuaiti died in a fall at the ports of Auckland on Tuesday. Photo / Provided

The 26-year-old welcomed his first son in October last year, and relatives told the Herald of their grief for his ‘broken-hearted’ partner Kura.

“He [Tuaiti] was a very loving son, brother, cousin, uncle to many families – not to mention a father to his beautiful son and beautiful partner,” a relative told the Herald.

A spokesperson for Wallace Investments confirmed they would be investigating the death and pledged to “co-operate fully” with Maritime NZ’s investigation.

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

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

<a class=Port workers in Auckland perform a haka in honor of their late colleague Atiroa Tuaiti, who died in an accident. Photo / Provided” class=”article-media__image responsively-lazy” data-test-ui=”article-media__image”/>
Port workers in Auckland perform a haka in honor of their late colleague Atiroa Tuaiti, who died in an accident. Photo / Provided

The union understood that Tuaiti had fallen while working on the container ship Capitaine Tasman, which flies the Singaporean flag.

“If you look at our industry and you look across the country, you see there have been multiple fatalities and severe damage in recent years,” Harrison said.

“And it’s not a big industry. It’s not like the size of construction or anywhere close to it. Still, we’re at the top of serious injury and death. I think that’s the opportune time to look at our industry and see if it is fit for purpose.”

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

“It rains all winter and they work seven days a week with winds of around 40 knots, so that could help with that, but it’s not unusual to work in that kind of weather,” he said. declared.

“It’s hard to push the button if there was a ‘harness culture’ or something like that. I know it’s a dangerous environment and people work at height. So if there’s had an error in judgment or something, I’m not too sure.”

Atiroa Tuaiti and his partner Kura had just had a baby in October.  Photo / Provided
Atiroa Tuaiti and his partner Kura had just had a baby in October. Photo / Provided

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

“There was really nothing in direct control of Auckland Ports that could have influenced that,” 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 Tau Henare, a member of the Auckland Maori Independent Statutory Council, and Efeso Collins, Councilor of Auckland.

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

“There has been a weakening of health and safety conditions on construction sites in New Zealand. [They’re] high-risk ports and wharfs, and I think the union is absolutely right. We need a national audit, a national review. One death is one death too many.”

Te Pou said new Auckland Ports chief executive Roger Gray has been trying to foster a closer relationship with workers since he was announced for the role in December. Gray, however, has only been officially in the role for a few weeks after taking over as CEO 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 with the last CEO,” Te Pou said.

Tuaiti’s death adds to a series of tragedies and serious injuries at Auckland’s ports in recent years.

The port worker was killed after falling from a height at Auckland's ports on Tuesday.  Photo / Dean Purcell
The port worker was killed after falling from a height at Auckland’s ports on Tuesday. Photo / Dean Purcell

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

In 2018, 23-year-old Laboom Midnight Dyer died after a straddle cart he was driving overturned.

In July 2020 Auckland Ports was fined $242,000 for failing to meet health and safety obligations after a pilot boat accidentally hit and killed ocean swimmer Leslie Gelberger in 2017.

Gelberger’s widow, Laura McLeod, hailed Auckland’s port security review when it was released in March last year.

“The fact that there have been two more deaths since the death of my husband, who himself was the product of a culture that prioritizes productivity over well-being, is heartbreaking,” said then declared McLeod.

“How many deaths does it take for them to actually change their ways and, as recommended, prioritize safety over profit?”