No-one mentioned the liner
It was the elephant in the room; no-one at the Environmental Protection Authority board of inquiry hearing yesterday said anything about the sinking of Russian cruise liner Mikhail Lermontov.
The ship sank off Port Gore in the Cook Strait 25 years ago while being piloted by Don Jamison, who was Marlborough harbourmaster at the time.
Mr Jamison made a rare public appearance yesterday to make a submission opposing development of more salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds.
His original submission raised concerns about navigation in the Sounds, particularly with the interisland ferries in Tory Channel, but his evidence was more general, covering the potential risk of a salmon farm breaking free of its moorings and drifting into shipping lanes in the channel.
King Salmon lawyers questioned several aspects of his evidence, but did not raise the sinking of the cruise liner after it took an unusual line inside rocks at Cape Jackson. Lawyer Derek Nolan stuck to questioning Mr Jamison about salmon farm engineering and mooring requirements.
He has never spoken publicly about the sinking and he declined to comment on anything to do with the Mikhail Lermontov when approached by the Marlborough Express yesterday.
Mr Jamison said his feelings about the application were mixed. "I can see there are commercial benefits, but overall I think there is enough salmon farming."
He said he didn't want to comment about what had prompted him to go public on it, given his reluctance to be in the public eye.
Mr Jamison agreed his submission had changed from firm opposition originally to a more neutral approach, but said that was because he had "changed the perspective" he was looking at the application from.
"I realised my initial evidence was through the eyes of a harbourmaster. Personally, as a mariner, it's not a problem navigation-wise. That was the main change."
Asked if he had been warned off being too vigorous in opposition for fear someone would raise the sinking of the Mikhail Lermontov under his watch, he declined to comment. "I don't think anyone did say it would be raised in cross-examination. I don't want to comment on that."
Carrying 740 passengers and crew on 16 February 1986, the Mikhail Lermontov grounded on rocks and then sank after trying to pass between Cape Jackson and an outlying lighthouse. Rescue ships were on hand quickly, despite dreadful weather conditions, and all but one engineer were rescued.
It has never been explained why Mr Jamison had tried to take the Mikhail Lermontov through a narrow passage where the water was too shallow for the size of the ship.
His only explanation was that he was suffering from mental and physical exhaustion after working 80 hours a week for four months.
- The Marlborough Express