16 May 2012

Coroner reiterates call for maritime law reform

9:19 pm on 16 May 2012

The Bay of Plenty Coroner has repeated his calls for serious reform of maritime law, saying changes could have prevented the death of a 17-year-old jet ski passenger.

Bishop Thompson drowned at Lake Okareka after suffering a massive head injury in a collision with another jet ski in January last year.

Coroner Wallace Bain says anyone operating a powered boat or jet ski should be licensed as if they were driving on the road.

He says water craft should also be registered and the law needs to be changed to hold people accountable for causing death and injury.

Two of Bishop Thompson's friends who were riding the jet skis pleaded guilty to operating a ship dangerously.

Detective Sergeant John Wilson, who led the search for Bishop Thompson's body, agrees with the Coroner's findings that people should be culpable for causing death and injury on the water.

"Certainly it's not the first time that Coroners have recommended there must be changes. Maybe we need to have the laws in relation to vessels similar to those that are required on the roads. It seems to be a good comparison to make."

Mr Wilson says the tragedy also highlights the inherent dangers of powerful jet skis, particularly in the hands of inexperienced operators.

The Coroner says his recommendations are the same as he made in September last year, following the death of nine-year-old Genevieve Lewis, who was run over by a boat on Lake Taupo while water skiing in 2009.

Guy Lewis supports reform of the law, saying if the man who ran over his daughter had been driving a car, he would have gone to jail.

Mr Lewis says under the Maritime Transport Act, her killer could be charged only with operating a ship dangerously and escaped with a fine and an order to pay reparation.

"He had a $3000 fine and a $20,000 reparation - but he hasn't done any time, he hasn't lost a job, he hasn't lost his girlfriend. He hasn't had a check in his life to remind him of that day, really."

Guy Lewis says it is unjust that his daughter's life counts for nothing under maritime law.

Minister considering

Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges says he is considering the coroner's call for jetski users to be licensed, but says education may work better.

Mr Bridges says says Maritime New Zealand has given him preliminary advice that education might work better than regulation, as licensing would be very difficult for police.

He says officials are also talking to other relevant organisations such as Water Safety New Zealand.