Safety concerns spur dredging, life ring call

A long-time Oamaru boatie says while the Oamaru Harbour surrounds are attracting much attention these days, the harbour itself should be more of a focus.

Chiropractor Ron Sim  is urging the council to take steps  to improve harbour safety.

He  was recommending more urgency in dredging the harbour and wanted to see life rings installed at the breakwater and on Holmes Wharf. An investigation into the foundering of  fishing vessel  Jane Marie on February 9 prompted the Otago Regional Council’s harbourmaster to call for signs at Oamaru Harbour to warn of the "inherent dangers" of entering the harbour and called for formal consideration of the "restoration of the channel shape, alignment and depth" at the harbour entrance.

After the drowning of a 5-year-old boy in Auckland, Auckland Council was reviewing its policy on life rings at wharves it owns and the council here should not wait until a death occurred to act.

"It’s really been an issue all the way through — I think because I believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Dr Sim said.

"We don’t want to have tragedies down on our local wharf because if that happens all hell is going to break out.

"We’ve only got to have someone trip and fall, or trip or something like that, have a medical event and finish up in the harbour and what are we going to do then? If we don’t have life rings available for them, we’re probably going to lose someone’s life."

Dr Ron Sim says Oamaru Harbour needs work to make it safer for users. Photo: Craig Baxter
Dr Ron Sim says Oamaru Harbour needs work to make it safer for users. Photo: Craig Baxter

The Otago Daily Times reported last month the council had stopped  putting money aside for dredging the harbour during the 2012-13 financial year. Council assets group manager Neil Jorgensen said at the time the council did not have plans to dredge the harbour this financial year, but it would be included as a proposal for the 2018-28 long-term plan.

But Dr Sim said the entrance to the harbour could be "scary" and the dredging work required to make it safer should be a matter of urgency.

If  Jane Marie had foundered a little bit later, the outcome could have been different.

"We could have had a tragic loss of life and there would have been a lot of hell to pay," he said.

"We could very well have the same repeat of what actually has happened with the Jane Marie.

"We could lose a boat tomorrow if we have a bad sea.

"If we have another tragedy, we are going to have a lot of people concerned.

"Let’s put an ounce of prevention in, rather than just trying to address the problem after it occurred."

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said he could recall life rings on Holmes Wharf in the past and would discuss with council staff the possibility of returning life rings to the wharf. The breakwater has been closed at night due to safety concerns, but Mr Kircher said life rings on the breakwater would probably be washed away in the first heavy sea.

"We’ve tried to allow access on there  but it’s no different to many other facilities around water where there’s no life rings and so on. Should we be putting them around our lakes? ... It’s one of those things — people do have to assume some risk themselves. Where possible, absolutely we should be looking at how we can make it safer. That’s a particular area where it is tricky."

Council chief executive Fergus Power said the council had started discussions with the regional council and some of the issues Dr Sim raised would be part of a discussion between the council and the regional council in "the near future ... to provide some clarity to everybody who has some interaction with the harbour".

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