Safety concerns: Pacific Jemm skipper Geoff Gemmell


Queenstown Bay boaties believe water safety’s being compromised by council handing
over harbourmaster duties to a security company.

Boaties used to work closely with veteran harbourmaster Marty Black and his team when
ever there was an emergency, or even a minor incident.

Black worked for contractor Southern Monitoring Services, however in May it was announced Cougar Security Group had won the tender to provide water ways regulatory services from July 1.

Council confirms Cougar’s hired four staff who’ve been warranted under the Maritime Transport Act 1994, including a harbourmaster, who’s local Coastguard president Phil Wiel,
a deputy harbourmaster and an enforcement officer.

Pacific Jemm skipper Geoff Gemmell says last Friday, when Wiel visited his boat, he introduced himself as the new harbourmaster, but when asked if had a maritime qualification he replied ‘‘nearly’’.

‘‘I said, ‘where does that leave us in an emergency?’

‘‘He said, ‘we’re fully involved with the Coastguard’.’’

Speaking on behalf of Queenstown Bay boaties, he says ‘‘if we have an accident, we have to be comfortable with who’s doing the job and, until recently, we had a hotline to Marty’’.

‘‘It was a simple process and he’d go, ‘right, I’ll get one of the KJet boats to come and help you out, we’ll be there in a flash’.’’

Speaking on Wednesday, council boss Mike Theelen says there’s been a change in the contract, and for emergency services you need to dial 111 or contact the Coastguard.

‘‘A harbourmaster’s duties are largely around enforcing the waterways regulations.’’

Dealing with incidents and accidents on the water ‘‘is not the harbourmaster’s role, it’s actually the role of police and the Coastguard’’.

‘‘There will be a harbour master, but the harbourmaster’s role is first and foremost around
the regulatory compliance.’’

Incidents would still need to be reported to the harbourmaster, however.

Theelen accepts there’s a bedding-in process, but notes ‘‘operations of the contract actually do decrease during the winter months’’.

Meanwhile, Gemmell believes local boaties should have been consulted during the tender process due to their expertise.

He also queries the role given to Coastguard given it’s a voluntary organisation.

‘‘You’ve got all these volunteers dropping their tools at Lake Hayes Estate, or wherever,
and getting this old boat wound up [at Frankton Marina].

‘‘You’re looking at at least an hour — if someone goes in the water, how long have you got?

‘‘Five to 10 minutes?’’

Another long-time boatie, Wayne Perkins, say he’s ‘‘absolutely fascinated’’ a security company’s taken over ‘‘a qualified maritime role’’.

‘‘Traditionally, the harbourmaster has been 100% responsible for the safety and wellbeing
of people on the waterways of the area, and until now it’s been done in a very professional,
friendly and yet positive manner.

‘‘These boys certainly have very, very big boots to step into.’’