23 Aug 2010

Navy crewman demoted after punching sailors

10:01 pm on 23 August 2010

A Navy crewman who punched two fellow sailors during a drinking session while on an overseas deployment has been demoted.

Leading combat systems specialist Danny Tohutika Heke, 32, pleaded guilty at a court martial in Devonport to two charges of striking two lower-ranked sailors in April.

The men were serving on HMNZS Te Kaha, which was starting a four-month voyage.

The court was told on Monday a group of 10 people were drinking at a backpackers in Cairns when Heke punched the two crewmen.

One suffered a fractured eye socket and had to return to Auckland.

Heke has been demoted to the position of able seaman and has to pay about $2,500 compensation to the more seriously injured crewman.

The hearing was the first time anyone from the Defence Force has appeared before a new permanent and independent court martial since it was established in 2009.

The Navy is denying it has a bad drinking culture. Commander of the Devonport base, Captain Fred Keating, says the Navy has a mandate to make sailors and not saints, and it will sometimes be let down.