Deaths at sea spark boat­ies warn­ing

Pilbara News - - News - Ali­cia Per­era

Pil­bara wa­ter au­thor­i­ties are again urg­ing skip­pers and their crews to fol­low boat safety ad­vice after a wor­ry­ing num­ber of tragic in­ci­dents in re­gional wa­ters dur­ing the past 18 months.

In late Septem­ber, the Kar­ratha com­mu­nity was shocked when lo­cal fish­er­man Nor­man Bale went missing on the wa­ter after leav­ing Kar­ratha Back Beach to go crab­bing in his small alu­minium tinny.

An ex­ten­sive wa­ter, land and air search re­cov­ered his boat and crab­bing equip­ment but failed to find him after a week.

It fol­lowed the deaths of spearfish­er­men Matt Pen­ning­ton and Lawrence Smith when their boat cap­sized near Mawby Is­land in Jan­uary, and the sink­ing of com­mer­cial fish­ing trawler the Re­turner in Nickol Bay in July last year, killing three peo­ple.

North West wa­ter po­lice re­gional op­er­a­tions man­ager Sergeant Scott Gil­lis said while the in­ci­dents ap­peared to be the re­sult of mis­for­tune rather than any par­tic­u­lar trend, they served as a re­minder of the im­por­tance of boat safety.

At the end of last month, the De­part­ment of Trans­port had checked about 500 ves­sels and is­sued 59 boat­ing in­fringe­ments in the Pil­bara re­gion, of which 29 were for a lack of ap­pro­pri­ate safety equip­ment in­clud­ing flares and EPIRBs.

Eigh­teen in­fringe­ments were is­sued for speed­ing and eight for un­reg­is­tered ves­sels.

DoT north­ern re­gional di­rec­tor Sue Lan­nin said with boat­ing con­di­tions gen­er­ally good year­round in the Pil­bara, it was easy for peo­ple to fall into a sense of com­pla­cency when on the wa­ter, but they needed to be aware that con­di­tions can change rapidly and if they do, the sit­u­a­tion was more dan­ger­ous than on land be­cause of the risk of drown­ing.

“They think some­thing can’t hap­pen to them, but in re­al­ity what’s hap­pened proves that it can hap­pen,” she said.

“Peo­ple need to be aware that it could go wrong. You wouldn’t hop in an aero­plane and put your trust in the pi­lot if they hadn’t checked that ev­ery­thing was al­right.”

One of the ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal risks in Pil­bara wa­ters are the big tides, which are far larger than in the metropoli­tan area and can reach 4-5m.

The tides can pose prob­lems even in get­ting into or out of oth­er­wise shel­tered ar­eas be­cause the ocean en­vi­ron­ment can change with them, with rocky out­crops be­com­ing ex­posed when the tide goes down, for ex­am­ple, or leav­ing peo­ple stranded in creek beds.

“You don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to get cap­sized to die in a boat; you can get stuck in mud, and you’re go­ing to be stuck in 40-de­gree heat,” Sgt Gil­lis said.

He also said skip­pers telling some­one where they are go­ing, when they ex­pect to re­turn, and no­ti­fy­ing a res­cue team as early as pos­si­ble, even if they cancelled later, all went a long way to help­ing wa­ter po­lice find them in the case of some­thing go­ing wrong.

The DoT rec­om­mends skip­pers go through a com­pre­hen­sive on­estop check­list of safety checks, avail­able via its web­site, at least once a year to en­sure their ves­sel and on­board equip­ment is in good work­ing or­der for the spe­cific con­di­tions of the Pil­bara area.

It pro­vides a thor­ough over­view of all boat mo­tor, bat­tery, trailer and safety equip­ment checks to en­sure boats are well-equipped on the wa­ter.

Ms Lan­nin said it was a sim­ple pro­ce­dure that only needed do­ing once a year but could mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween hav­ing a prob­lem-free trip or easy res­cue and get­ting caught in a tight sit­u­a­tion.

On­board drink­ing, bet­ter pas­sen­ger aware­ness of safety equip­ment and prop­erly op­er­at­ing trail­ers are also on­go­ing is­sues of con­cern for the ma­rine au­thor­i­ties.

Sgt Gil­lis said when wa­ter po­lice of­fi­cers saw some peo­ple aboard boats con­tin­u­ally flout­ing ba­sic safety pre­cau­tions and putting their own and oth­ers’ safety at risk, the dom­i­nant feel­ing was one of frus­tra­tion.

“I wouldn’t want it on my con­science that be­cause I didn’t check my gear, one of my friends has been in­jured or hurt.” “We can only do so much.” Ms Lan­nin also said that if the high risks of over­look­ing safety pre­cau­tions still didn’t prompt some peo­ple to take care on the wa­ter, to think of the ef­fects a tragic in­ci­dent could have on oth­ers.

“It has a big im­pact on your whole com­mu­nity when some­thing like this hap­pens,” she said.

“Peo­ple spend thou­sands of dol­lars ser­vic­ing their fish­ing gear ... but they won’t spend the money to buy a de­cent set of flares that last you three or four years,” he said.

You can find the DoT BEST boat check­list at www.trans­port.wa.gov.au/ima­rine/about­safety-equip­ment.asp.

Pic­ture: Ali­cia Per­era

De­part­ment of Trans­port re­gional of­fi­cers Lance Whit­ney and Tony Fitz­patrick and North West wa­ter po­lice Sgt Scott Gil­lis are ask­ing Pil­bara skip­pers to fol­low safety guide­lines on the wa­ter.

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