Editorial: Hazarding more than they know

Last updated 11:23 05/10/2012

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Tragedy feared from fuel thefts

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OPINION: There's dirty thieving and then there's deadly thieving.

Somebody is flirting with the latter category around Bluff, through a spate of fuel thefts from boats over the past months.

It's bad enough to steal anything, worse to steal in a situation which could leave someone like a motorist stranded, but it's a low crime indeed to risk leaving a boat - especially an ocean-going boat - or an aircraft spluttering.

Police went public on Monday after a Dunedin-based fisherman had 3000 litres stolen from his boat. That would have taken someone about an hour, owner Peter Scott reckons. Reasonably enough, he's concerned that soaring fuel prices will lead to more thefts.

Though it's true that Maritime NZ requirements include that fuel levels are checked before boats head out, there is always the chance that a check will be missed and a boat could find itself stranded in - and seriously, how often does this happen? - bad conditions.

Those waters demand respect and are hideously unforgiving. It's just not an environment where running out of fuel is no biggie.

It's not as if a skipper could pull on a handbrake and wait it out. In water too deep to anchor, the crew would be just drifting, perhaps with filters choking from the bottom-of-the-tank sludge.

It is troubling to think that a thief would be able to shrug off all that risk, or his own role in any resulting tragedy.

On top of such an abject personal failure of morality, it would also be a breathtaking failure of imagination. How hated does a man want to be?

On top of any punitive consequences, the Bluff fuel thief, or thieves, is hazarding a particularly squalid infamy.

Recent disasters befalling the Kotuku and the Easy Rider have cruelly heightened community awareness of the inherent dangers of southern coastal waters.

For that matter five people died in Foveaux Strait in 1998 when a Southern Air Cessna ditched after running out of fuel in circumstances leading investigators to criticise the airline's fuel management system.

True, that was an aviation rather than a boating tragedy. But who, in their right mind, would like to be the person standing in the dock of Invercargill District Court hoping like hell that people keep that distinction sharply in mind?

Come to that, it's no small thing when fuel is stolen from farmers, rural operators and motorists.

There's an element of risk in running out of petrol in the wrong sort of road, not to mention the sheer frustration.

Moreover, such thefts aren't always small-scale. Police periodically caution that the thieves could be driving around with trailers with big drums on the back.

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You can also get those charming cases such as happened at farm on the Glencoe highway between Mataura and Winton on August 30, when 20 litres was taken but, because the bung was removed, about 500 litres spilt out of the tank.

- The Southland Times

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