Ready to launch

Auck­land is sur­rounded by water and at any one time there could be hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple at work or play on it. Re­porter Emma Whit­taker spent a day with the po­lice unit tasked with keep­ing our wa­ter­ways un­der con­trol.

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE -

MAY­DAY, may­day, may­day.

The call sign that comes over the ra­dio means some­one’s life is in dan­ger and they need help now.

A boat must be on fire in the har­bour or about to sink.

Any ves­sels close to the sit­u­a­tion will be head­ing in to give the dis­tressed boatie a hand.

At the Auck­land Po­lice Mar­itime Unit’s base in Me­chan­ics Bay peo­ple rush to get their gear to­gether.

Se­nior launch master Marty Re­nouf only just makes it down the jetty and to the boat when an­other mes­sage comes through.

The boatie has bro­ken down close to an in­ner har­bour is­land and he’s fine.

The feel­ing on­board our pa­trol boat is a mix­ture of re­lief and frus­tra­tion.

The dis­tress call is a mas­sive over-re­ac­tion, ex­plains po­lice coastal master Garry Larsen. Our re­sponse is called off. The Coast­guard will in­stead head out and check on the sit­u­a­tion.

‘‘That’s why ed­u­ca­tion is im­por­tant,’’ Mr Larsen says.

‘‘Any­one can go out and buy a boat with­out any kind of qual­i­fi­ca­tion but there are so many dif­fer­ent risks and rules in­volved. I would en­cour­age peo­ple to get an ed­u­ca­tion first.’’

Po­lice have pa­trolled Auck­land’s wa­ters since the 1840s but in 1959 the government re­alised a pur­pose­built po­lice launch was needed in the city.

Over bud­get and six months late, the De­o­dar was launched in Novem­ber, 1960.

It got its name from the po­lice min­is­ter at the time who had served on a mine sweeper called HMS De­o­dar dur­ing World War II.

The present launch De­o­dar III is an 18.5 me­tre, state-of-the-art cata­ma­ran, ca­pa­ble of reach­ing a speed of up to 43 knots (79.55kmh).

‘‘We’re ba­si­cally a po­lice car on water,’’ Mr Larsen says.

A lot of the unit’s time is taken up with search and res­cue work and train­ing with other or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The unit is also re­spon­si­ble for en­forc­ing fish­ery laws.

De­o­dar III is out of the water for main­te­nance so we’re spend­ing the day on one of the unit’s two 12-me­tre rigid hulled in­flat­able boats (RHIBs).

Eleven of the RHIBs were bought by po­lice to be used dur­ing the 2000 Amer­ica’s Cup and three are still in ser­vice.

Our first stop for the day is the Viaduct Har­bour where a water taxi was bro­ken into overnight.

It’s been trashed and some flares have been stolen.

Break-ins and boat thefts aren’t un­com­mon, Mr Larsen says.

To keep track of the sit­u­a­tion the mar­itime unit runs a data­base of stolen boats.

‘‘A lot of them are stolen to or­der,’’ he says.

‘‘If peo­ple see boats be­ing towed at funny hours of the night or any­thing they should give po­lice a call.’’

The taxi has been taken out to sea by its owner since the break-in so there isn’t much point in po­lice go­ing through it for ev­i­dence.

Ma­rina staff will check over CCTV footage from the night, Mr Larsen says.

The rest of the af­ter­noon is spent do­ing a rou­tine pa­trol on the har­bour.

There is no le­gal limit on the amount of al­co­hol a per­son can have in their sys­tem when they are driv­ing a boat so the unit doesn’t rou­tinely breatht­est sailors.

‘‘Mainly we’re check­ing to see that peo­ple have life­jack­ets.’’

Mr Larsen re­calls an in­ci­dent in Novem­ber where two men drowned when their ves­sel tipped over near Wai­heke Is­land. There were seven peo­ple aboard the 4.9 me­tre boat and no life­jack­ets.

The case was well pub­li­cised in the me­dia.

‘‘We were out on the water the week af­ter that and we are still get­ting peo­ple with­out life­jack­ets. A com­mon ar­gu­ment we get is ‘it’s a calm day’, ‘we’re close to land’ and ‘I’m a good swim­mer’.

‘‘You still need to wear a life­jacket though – you could be knocked on the head, or in the water for a while.’’

Although the water is calm, the cur­rent around us is still rea­son­ably strong and is mov- ing at 3 knots (5.5kmh).

‘‘If you were to fall in you would start trav­el­ling away from the boat at that speed,’’ Mr Larsen says. ‘‘It would take those on your boat at least six or seven min­utes to get the an­chor up, turn around, and come and get you.

‘‘We have had plenty of ex­pe­ri­ences where some­one has fallen off the back of a boat and by the time peo­ple get to them they are dead.’’

Mr Larsen has been with the mar­itime unit for more than 12 years.

He came to it from a back- ground in ru­ral polic­ing in Waiuku.

‘‘There are a lot of dif­fer­ent chal­lenges to mar­itime polic­ing but our role in some ways is more var­ied than it would be on land. ‘I just en­joy the type of work and the peo­ple you come across. Most peo­ple on the water are just good peo­ple out to en­joy what New Zealand has to of­fer,’’ he says.

Pho­tos: EMMA WHIT­TAKER

Water cop: Po­lice coastal master Garry Larsen.

Num­ber one: Po­lice launch De­o­dar III.

Im­por­tant les­son: Se­nior launch master Marty Re­nouf ex­plains the im­por­tance of wear­ing life­jack­ets to a boat load of young peo­ple who don’t have enough for ev­ery­one on board.

The backup: The Auck­land Po­lice Mar­itime Unit’s in­flat­able RHIB that stands in for De­o­dar III.

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