Editorial: Keep boats (and records) stable

Last updated 10:17 09/05/2012

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OPINION: It is hard not to wince at the realisation that stability issues with fishing boats of the ill-starred Easy Rider's design were known long ago.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is reacting, urgently, to the possibility that this may be news to present owners.

The commission has made the right call whipping out a warning partway through its investigation into the heart-rending loss of the Easy Rider and eight of the nine people aboard.

This stability alert must quickly reach the owners of the other five or so Owenga-design crafts still in service.

In the commission's view, the problems are tolerable, but only if the owners and skippers know what they need to do, especially refrain from loading up the decks.

The deeply concerning wider issue still to be resolved is how, exactly, the knowledge and its implications might not have been retained down the decades, as boats built nearly 40 years ago change ownership.

If important information such as key stability characteristics isn't passed on and communicated in some way more detailed and reliable than, what – oral tradition? – then why not?

We don't yet have enough public information to know the significance of the fact that, during the past four decades, four of the nine boats of this design have sunk. In what circumstances?

We do know, however, that the commission has found that one surveyor recommended a warning plaque be put in the wheelhouse about not loading too much on deck.

So what happened to that idea?

The continuing investigation may answer the question of whether the Easy Rider's skipper Rewai Karetai knew about the stability vulnerability.

But come on. By any measure, the boat was carrying plenty on its deck.

Stores and equipment for the Titi (Muttonbird) Islands covered most of the aft fishing deck and in places it was stacked as high as the wheelhouse roof.

The commission is at pains to say that it has not completed its investigation and that a sinking typically involves more than one factor.

So by no means should we tell ourselves we know all that really matters about the Easy Rider sinking.

Still, from sole survivor Dallas Reedy to the families of the lost, to the wider industry and the Bluff community, there is an ardent wish for useful lessons to be learned from this tragedy.

A potentially lifesaving heads-up for maybe five other skippers would be something significant in itself.

So might similar warnings for similar craft and their owners.

And so might a reassessment of whether necessary information about a boat's operational characteristics is being passed on when ownership changes.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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