Seafaring charity answers allegations over harassment
BY JULIA WADE
Board members of a nautical charity based in Mangawhai, whose founding member was accused of bullying and harassment earlier this year, have apparently released a statement to address the allegations and assure future volunteers.
However while the statement sounds legitimate, there is some confusion over the author as members of the charity’s Board had all quit their positions earlier in the year.
The Floating Foundation (FF) organisation was founded by Craig Koning with a purpose to help empower local Pacific communities with humanitarian projects, deliver medical aid to remote islands and conduct scientific research into island marine life.
A Stuff investigation in May this year (reported in Mangawhai Focus, June 25) revealed that Koning allegedly subjected a number of the mainly female crew to verbal and psychological abuse as well as singled out women as young as 17 for sexual attention while sailing to Tonga in 2017.
In the statement released on July 16, the FF board at first commended Koning for his vision, risk and effort for building the charity, before condemning the bullying and harassment, saying his conduct towards the volunteers and crew who are the ‘life of the Floating Foundation, has been unacceptable. We deeply regret any breaches of high standards of behaviour… bullying, and the failure of the Floating Foundation management to effectively respond to crew complaints during the 2016/2017 voyages’.
It also states the Foundation ‘has acquired, at the personal expense of Craig Koning, a larger and more suitable vessel for future voyages’. The statement outlined strong codes of conduct ‘to ensure appropriate crew selection, management and behaviour while on expeditions’ including a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying with recommendations that Koning should only be involved in a supportive role on future expeditions. The sailing for 2018 was cancelled due to the allegations.
However FF board members Gary Paul, Elliot Blade and Eleshea D'Souza resigned between January and May this year leaving only Koning – according to the Charities Register – as the remaining trustee and a question mark as to who actually penned the statement. One board member contacted by the Focus said they had no idea who wrote it.
A personal apology by Koning via Facebook was also released on the same day, where he expresses his deep apologies for ‘my poor behaviour’ and says he fully accepts that he ‘let down my team, our volunteers, and myself. With new governance policies and a strong board of leadership I hope that we can return to focussing on solving the problems that our remote Pacific communities are facing. I have learned a valuable lesson in this experience. It was needed. I hope to continue learning and continue helping. I'm sorry for my flaws’.
However, the female volunteers and colleagues who were harassed by Koning have dismissed the apology as superficial and merely ‘box-ticking’.
The allegations drew an inquiry into the Foundation by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) which has recently been concluded. In a statement the department says ‘there was currently insufficient evidence that meets the threshold of serious wrongdoing under the Charities Act 2005’. However the DIA is continuing to assess some issues around the charity’s annual reporting and has referred FF on to WorkSafe and Maritime New Zealand as the agencies ‘may have a more appropriate mandate to deal with the issues in question’.
Craig Koning was contacted by the Focus for comment but at the time of print no reply was received.
Craig Koning. - PHOTO/Facebook