Can we listen to this guy?

Last updated 12:36 05/09/2013

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OPINION: Editorial: Some lessons need to be published loudly, clearly and probably ungently.

Coroner David Crerar's inquest into the fatalities from the K-Cee and Governor fishing boat sinkings are a case in point.

At times like this we find ourselves wishing coroners were more inclined to swear, the better to get seriously important messages beyond the departments and organisations involved, and through to the rawboned likes of southern fishermen themselves.

Maybe if words like "rescue beacons" and "lifejackets" had familiar adjectives in front of them, our seagoers might be less inclined to hear the background drone of officialdom and more willing to listen up and reassess some long-held prejudices.

Like how unwieldy and uncomfortable lifejackets are for regular use. Crappy old ones still are.

The "Coastal" variety on the Governor, for instance, would be a hell of a thing to wear throughout a working day. But come on. The more modern designs of buoyancy aid are far less restrictive and perfectly good for anyone who wasn't inclined to be a sook about it. They should be compulsory. Mr Crerar has long said so and he's right.

Unhappily, as things stand, they aren't. In which case, let's say it plainly that those who don't wear them are being lazily fatalistic. One of the few bright spots of the inquest hearing was what Mr Crerar called "a feeling" that past crew opposition may be waning.

As for the argument that a lifejacket means you just take longer to die from cold or drowning, well that's old-fashioned rubbish. We've southern survival stories stretching to eight hours in the water.

And timely help is far more likely to be on the way if the boats are equipped with proper locator beacons. Which is another thing . . .

A key message from the hearing is that some fishermen in Fiordland aren't keeping up on the technological benefits provided by the marine emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs).

Yes, there's always the emergency VHF channel 16, the recognised international distress channel. Much as it relies on "line of sight", Maritime NZ believes that if either vessel had used it, it was "highly likely" that either Maritime Operations Centre or other vessels would have picked it up.

But surely there must also be more widespread, and educated, use of EPIRBS.

They aren't failsafe, especially around our waters, due in part to satellite coverage problems. And then they need to go off in the first place. In the case of K-Cee and Governor, neither did.

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However the odds improve mightily when those new- fangled properly fitted "float-free" beacons are used. Hence Mr Crerar's recommendation Maritime NZ consider making this compulsory too.

Fishing vessels that head out into our dangerous waters without proper protection are hazarding not only their own welfare, but that of others trying to help in widespread searches.

The industry hasn't been its own best watchdog in this respect, and we're getting to the stage where our coroner is starting to sound like a cracked record.

- The Southland Times

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