Mandatory beacons on boats urged

NICCI MCDOUGALL
Last updated 05:00 05/09/2013

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The Otago-Southland coroner has called on Maritime New Zealand to consider making float-free beacons compulsory on fishing boats after the loss of two vessels in the south that claimed four lives.

David Crerar yesterday released his formal findings into the deaths of K-Cee skipper Bruce Gordon, 42, and crewman Darren Allen, 37; and Governor skipper Kevin Cosgrove, 60, and crewman Nirvana Reynolds, 16.

Crerar found all four died by drowning.

Gordon and Allen died in the Tasman Sea off Rocky Point on Secretary Island on April 30 last year after the K-Cee was overwhelmed in heavy seas and sank. Their bodies were not found.

Cosgrove and Reynolds, aboard the Governor, died in the Tasman Sea near Yates Point on September 15 last year as Cosgrove tried to recover a snagged trawl net. The boat became inundated with water and sank, Crerar said. Neither man was wearing a lifejacket.

Crerar said there was a "distinct likelihood" the men on both boats would have survived in the sea conditions for some time if they had been supported by a personal flotation device.

Crerar said Maritime New Zealand should consider whether the fitting of float-free electronic position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) ought to be made compulsory as part of the survey required of fishing boats.

Education in the wearing and use of personal flotation devices was essential, he said.

Crerar believed the wearing of lifejackets should be compulsory.

"I can only draw this to the attention of Maritime New Zealand and the minister in order that each make a decision that will give the opportunity to save lives in the future."

The coroner said Maritime New Zealand could expand its education programme for fishermen operating in Fiordland who were unaware of the technological benefits provided by the EPIRBs.

Every effort should be made to address the problem of radio signals in Fiordland being less than ideal, he added.

Crerar endorsed the use of VHF (very high frequency) channel 16 - the recognised international distress channel - for distress calls following a request from Maritime New Zealand.

In his findings, Crerar said signals from EPIRBs were not fail-safe and they ought to be used and relied upon in conjunction with other communication methods.

Fiordland Fisherman's Radio operator Carol Brown, speaking after the findings were released, said Fiordland was not covered well in terms of communication for vessels, but the problem was being addressed.

Cra8, which covers the rock lobster fishing area in the south of New Zealand, and Environment Southland were setting up other repeater sites along the Fiordland coast to ensure better coverage, she said.

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At the inquest, held in Te Anau in April, Maritime New Zealand investigator Dominic Venz said the agency believed all fishermen should wear lifejackets or personal flotation devices at all times, and all fishing boats should have a float-free EPIRB. It also recommended personal locator beacons.

While the K-Cee and Governor fishing boats were equipped with an EPIRB, neither was activated, nor was a mayday call made.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Steve Rendle said yesterday that the agency would be considering Crerar's recommendations. He did not answer further emailed questions.

- The Southland Times

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