Coroner highlights boat-alcohol link

Te Anau farmer Shane David Gibbons was killed in a jet-boat accident in March 2019. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Te Anau farmer Shane David Gibbons was killed in a jet-boat accident in March 2019. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A coroner has called for a rethink on drug and alcohol testing of recreational boaties after a drunken jet-boat crash left a Southland man dead.

The Ministry of Transport earlier ignored pleas from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission to enable testing of recreational boaties, saying enforcement would be too complex.

The ministry’s stance was highlighted in a coroner’s report released yesterday into the death of Southland man Shane David Gibbons, on March 18, 2019.

Mr Gibbons was a passenger on a boat, driven by Paul Turner, when it hit a gravel bar on the Hollyford River.

Coroner Sue Johnson said an autopsy completed by Dr Noelyn Hung showed Mr Gibbons became trapped under the boat, with his lower right leg almost completely amputated.

A personal locator beacon was activated by Mr Turner at 8.42pm.

A rescue helicopter arrived about 10.20pm with a paramedic but Mr Gibbons could not be revived.

Mr Turner had a blood sample taken on the morning after the crash which contained 74mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

ESR estimated his blood alcohol level at the time of the crash would have been between 130mg and 195mg per 100ml of blood.

The legal limit for driving on the road is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

Last year, Mr Turner was sentenced after pleading guilty to breaching the Maritime Transport Act by operating the jet-boat in a manner which caused unnecessary danger to other persons.

Judge Russell Walker ordered him to pay a fine of $3000 and reparation of $25,000 to be paid to Mr Gibbon’s partner Bridget Speight.

The coroner’s report states in 2007, the New Zealand Safer Boating Forum conducted a review which estimated 18% of recreational boating and watercraft fatalities between 2000 and 2006 involved alcohol consumption.

Maritime New Zealand had developed a fatal accident database which says since 2015, 79 people had died in recreational boating accidents, 19 of them between January 2019 and October 2019.

The Ministry of Transport commissioned a report which estimated there were about 43 recreational boating fatalities in the period from 2002 to 2011 "where substance abuse might have been a factor".

In her report, Ms Johnson recommended the ministry reconsider its position regarding appropriate legislation or rules to prohibit people in safety-critical roles, including people operating recreational vessels, being impaired by alcohol or drugs.

In 2017, the Maritime Transport Act was amended to enable drug and alcohol testing of people in safety sensitive roles in the commercial sector, though it was not extended to cover the recreational sector.

Enforcement would be particularly complex for recreational boating and there was limited evidence from other countries that had implemented an enforcement-based response to show it had improved recreational boating safety outcomes, the ministry said.

Ms Johnson’s final recommendation was the ministry reconsider its current position.

karen.pasco@odt.co.nz

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