It was an avoidable tragedy when the fishing boat Dolphin was sunk by a New Zealand shore battery in Lyttleton Harbour on 12 October 1939. On entering the harbour and finding no examination vessel at the entrance, a local fishing trawler,the Dolphin stopped in accordance with the regulations at the time, in front of the battery and awaited a signal from the battery to pass.
The official version was that the Dolphin, did not properly identify itself and the warning shot fired from No.1 gun accidentally killed a crewmen. This was the most notable incident in the entire 5O year history of the gun emplacements.
The tragedy raised serious questions left unanswered by a military court of inquiry and inquest, with the full facts hidden from public view due to wartime censorship. George Brassell, whose father went down with the Dolphin, and fishermen from four ports in the Canterbury region called upon the Government to hold full inquiry. The New Zealand Justice forum has now called upon the Govermnent to release all the documents that were before the military court of inquiry.
In much the same way the Government buries distasteful scandals today, the minister blamed the master of the Dolphin for the accident and claimed to be fully satisfied that all facts had been presented and no public inquiry was warranted. A report from the Christchurch Star noted;
Nobody who has read the bare facts about the sinking of the Dolphin, or studied the evidence of the military court of inquiry on the subject, will be able to agree with the Government that a public inquiry into the circumstances is unnecessary. A public inquiry would involve not only a completely unbiased examination of the facts, but a judicial finding to ensure that tragedies of this nature do not happen again.
The Ministerial statement does none of these things. It is a white-washing process that will exasperate the public and give less than no assurance that the lesson of the Dolphin will have a steadying influence on those responsible for the tragedy. The Government has placed an amazing interpretation on fact after fact of this almost unbelievable tragedy and disregarded important factors that were given in evidence.
The New Zealand Truth was even more scathing and to the point describing the official report as fatuous and the Minister's decision to say no to a public inquiry as "glossing over an appalling blunder" In justice to the relatives of an able and respected seafaring man, and to the public as a whole, steps should be taken to probe this disgracefull scandal-even if it is seventy years after the event!