Charges possible over Waiheke drownings

Maritime New Zealand and the police are meeting today to discuss whether any charges will be laid over a double drowning in the Hauraki Gulf at the weekend.

Two men, both of Pacific Island descent, died when their small craft capsized, sending seven men into the water. None of the men was wearing a life jacket.

The names of the pair are not available and the officer in charge of the metro maritime unit was unavailable for comment.

A Maritime spokesman said more would be known about any potential prosecution after the meeting. The police or Maritime could take a case under section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act.

The act says it is an offence to operate a vessel in a way that causes any unnecessary danger or risk to any other person or property irrespective of whether any injury or damage occurs.

Penalties include a prison term of up to 12 months or a fine of up to $10,000.

The charge is the same as the one faced by a father-of-two whose children drowned when they were trapped when his 6.7m vessel sank in 2007.

He pleaded guilty in 2008 to operating a vessel causing unnecessary danger or risk.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Tongan Advisory Council, Melino Maka, says messages about water safety are not getting through to the Pacific community and the approach by agencies such as Water Safety New Zealand must change.

Using celebrities such as Oscar Kightley, who is taking swimming lessons, is ineffective, he said.

"I always advocate authorities should ask the families of those that lost their loved ones in the water to actually tell people the struggles they've gone through trying to cope. That's the only thing that's going to work."

Water Safety NZ was unable confirm the exact numbers of drownings this year. However, on average 105 people die in the water every year.

- Yvonne Tahana, New Zealand Herald

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