Court flak for veteran harbourmaster


Flip-flops and foul-ups by expert witnesses - including Queenstown harbourmaster Marty Black - proved crucial in deciding a long-running local jetboat duel.

Black came in for criticism in last Thursday’s Environment Court judgment granting Thunder Jet the right to run trips on the lower Shotover River.

Judge Lawrie Newhook: “The court experienced some difficulty in getting clear answers from Mr Black on the nature of his [safety] concerns.

This was somewhat surprising as we’d expected a much more helpful contribution from Mr Black as a known authority nationwide on river safety, jetboating and standard operating procedures (SOPs).”

Black, himself a former jetboat operator, has been Queenstown’s harbourmaster since 1985.

In an earlier consent hearing, Newhook noted, Black said granting river rights to Thunder Jet “could compromise the safety of all [river] users”.

Yet, Newhook adds, the harbourmaster – who appeared under summons - eventually conceded Thunder Jet could safely operate four boats alongside KJet’s eight “with a few minor variations to both companies’ SOPs”.

Thunder Jet has been battling previous monopoly operator KJet over Lower Shotover river rights for two years.

The rivalry goes deeper – winner Thunder Jet is owned by Neville Kelly, whose brother Shaun co-owns KJet.

The brotherly scrap because the KJet Kelly tells Mountain Scene he may appeal last week’s verdict.

Newhook says operational safety was the main issue and concluded “any safety effects from [Thunder
Jet’s] proposal will be no more than minor”.

Safety issues saw seven expert witnesses appear - three called by Thunder Jet and four by KJet.

Black wasn’t the only KJet witness to suffer the judge’s ire.

KJet relied on Picton jetboat operator Andrew Cameron’s evidence, Newhook says, yet Cameron “lacked any operating experience on this river”.

Instead of providing objective advice, Newhook says Cameron gave “negative” evidence, but nothing to reject Thunder Jet’s witnesses’safety evidence.

Much of Cameron’s evidence was “unreliable”, Newhook finds.

Another KJet witness, jetboat consultant Lindsay Munro, acknowledged he had limited experience and knowledge of the Lower Shotover.