Brother on brother in jetboat war on water

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Queenstown’s Kawarau Jet is taking legal action to stop another jetboat company operating on the Kawarau River.

Kawarau Jet considers the non-notified consent issued by Queenstown Lakes Dis­­trict Council’s Lakes Envir­­on­­­­mental in September for a rival operator is deeply flawed – and is seeking a judicial review in the Invercargill High Court on January 19.

Queenstown Water Taxis, headed by jetboater Neville Kelly, has taken over the consent, which allows it to run four trips a day down the Kawarau to Arrow Junction. Kelly is awaiting approval from government watchdog Maritime New Zealand to start operating.

But Kawarau Jet’s 50 per cent owner, Kelly’s brother Shaun, believes the consent process was “absolutely crazy”. He claims:

  • “It was railroaded through without the major operator of that river being even notified”.
  • The consent assumes Kawarau Jet is the only other operator, ignoring it’s absorbed 10 other jetboat companies’ licences to safely coordinate operations.
  • Harbourmaster Marty Black was wrong to approve the con­­­­sent on safety grounds considering
    this stretch of river has the worst accident record in the country.
  • The consent assumes Maritime NZ OK’d the operation because it didn’t provide a requested report when in fact it was never asked.

Shaun Kelly stresses a fallout with his brother, who sold out of Kawarau Jet nine years ago, isn’t behind his concerns.

Shaun’s business partner Andy Brinsley says: “Our issues are not with the applicant but the management of the process.”

Third partner John Martin comments: “It’s taken 15 years to tidy up the industry [on the Kawarau] and in one fell swoop the council wrecks it.”

Shaun says there have been eight jetboat fatalities on the Kawarau – the latest involving his company only two months ago – and numerous injuries.

He believes the consent “seriously compromises the safety of my passengers and my company”.

Harbourmaster Black doesn’t buy Kawarau Jet’s argument it effectively runs 10 operations on the river. “They’ve only got one operating licence – they run eight boats, not 24.”

He also says all fatalities except the latest were before 1981, “and some of those had nothing to do with [commercial] jetboating, they were filming”.

Maritime NZ, says spokesman Ross Henderson, has met both operators and appointed three independent advisors as part of its safety investigation.

In response to safety issues raised, “MNZ has taken the interim measure of imposing a condition on Queenstown Water Taxis’ certificate of compliance that they not operate until the director of MNZ is satisfied they have an effective communications procedure in place with the existing operator to ensure public safety”.

Henderson notes MNZ “has no record of [QLDC] seeking any advice from MNZ in relation to the resource consent application”.

Brinsley says if MNZ gives Queenstown Water Taxis the green light, “we’ve no choice but to take out an injunction”.

LE planning boss Brian Fitz­patrick won’t comment while legal action is pending.

Neville Kelly couldn’t be contacted this week – he’s on a private jetboating expedition in South America.
Last week he said he was awaiting “radio clearance from MNZ” to start operating his latest Mackraft-designed $250,000-plus boat, which he’s coined Thunder Jet.