Dead Auckland boaties had no lifejackets

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 19/11/2012

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Coastguard volunteers welcomed Prince Charles on Monday, but six days later the bodies of two men were being dragged into a hearse at the same spot.

The two dead fishermen had not been wearing lifejackets and ventured out on a five-metre aluminium boat overloaded with seven people in the Hauraki Gulf yesterday morning.

Five of the seven men were pulled from the water alive, but two died, bringing the annual drowning toll to 84.

It was the second rescue operation for Auckland Coastguard at the weekend, after three men without lifejackets were found clinging to a buoy on Friday night.

Police maritime unit duty sergeant John Saunders said he struggled with New Zealand's record on the water.

"We still seem to drown people in alarming numbers."

The two deaths would have been avoided if the men had simply heeded the bad weather forecast and taken lifejackets, he said.

MetService had a strong wind warning in place for the area where the boat flipped, which was being buffeted by strong 23 knot westerlies and 2-metre swells.

"It's a tragedy that people can't put on the radio and listen to the forecast," Saunders said.

"The information is out there, it just has to be listened to and acted upon. That could have saved [them]."

The group of Pacific Island men, aged from their mid-20s to 50s, had just set out for a day of fishing, west of Waiheke Island, when one of the men fell ill.

The boat apparently flipped as he moved across the boat to vomit.

Once in the water the men were separated. A nearby recreational boat raised the Coastguard alarm and fished a few of the men out of the ocean.

By the time rescuers got to the two remaining men they were floating unconscious in the water.

Paramedics spent 20 minutes trying to revive one of the men, to no avail.

The five survivors and two bodies were taken back to the Coastguard Auckland Marine Rescue Centre at Mechanics Bay - the same place Prince Charles visited on Monday.

Coastguard Northern Region chief executive David Tommas said it was a bittersweet week for the volunteers.

Prince Charles, the patron for their Coastguard charity, had told them he was very proud of the work they did, he said.

"Obviously it was a great time for our volunteers to celebrate but obviously today they have to go home and deal with the consequences with this type of event. It's a challenging time."

In a separate near-drowning on Friday, three men were found in the water after their boat overturned. The men were also not wearing lifejackets. The latest two drownings are the 21st and 22nd deaths related to recreational fishing this year.

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Water Safety NZ chief executive Matt Claridge said boaties were obliged under maritime law to carry lifejackets on board and they had to be worn in rough conditions.

"I get really frustrated when I hear of more drownings when lifejackets are not worn.

"Lifejackets will help you out when you hit the water."

It was just not worth taking the risk of not wearing lifejackets or overloading a boat, he said.

The drownings have been referred to the coroner and Maritime NZ plan to carry out their own investigation.

Dressed in towels, four of the survivors of yesterday's incident were picked up by family at the rescue centre yesterday afternoon. They declined to comment. The fifth had earlier been taken to Auckland Hospital suffering mild hypothermia.

LIFEJACKET RULES

Under Maritime NZ rules boaties must always carry lifejackets or similar flotation devices on all recreational vessels. The lifejackets must be worn if there is any heightened risk or danger. The rules fall under the Maritime Transport Act 1994.

- Stuff

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