16 Jun 2011

Report faults Coastguard boats and training

9:20 pm on 16 June 2011

Accident investigators have highlighted failings at the Coastguard after four accidents, including one when the would-be rescuers were seriously injured.

In the most serious incident, the Tutukaka Coastguard vessel struck rocks, damaging the boat and causing serious injuries to several crew members, including skipper Mike Podesta who lost an eye.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission looked into the accidents involving Tutukaka, Manukau, Riverton and Hibiscus Coastguard boats in 2009 and 2010.

The rescue missions were at night in moderate to rough conditions, and in each case crew were injured.

The commission found fault with Coastguard practices, planning and training, and says sub-standard navigation was a factor in the accidents.

It also says the rigid inflatable vessels favoured by Coastguard New Zealand might not be the most suitable for rescue missions in heavy weather.

Captain Iain Hill led the commission's investigation and says it is natural for crews to want to get out on the water fast. But they have to think more before rushing out to help and ensure their safety as well as those being rescued.

Captain Hill says the commission is recommending that a person not directly involved with the rescue mission talk with the team first about tactics and conditions. By doing this, the crew might avoid injury or decide to abort the mission if it is too unsafe.

He says 99% of the Coastguard's work is faultless, but more training is needed to limit risk for rescuers on night missions in rough seas.

Tutukaka Coastguard skipper Mike Podesta told Checkpoint he felt his crew had a handle on what was happening and a plan the night they rescued a recreational boatie.

"But I suppose the good thing about looking at this in hindsight is saying maybe we should have put more preparation into doing something upfront."