Manukau port tragedy: boaters criticize coastguard response


The coast guard was criticized by Auckland boaters for not having a ship near the Manukau bar on Saturday where three men died and hundreds of boats crossed that day.

“If you had to pick a place where an accident was going to happen, it would be that day on that bar, and I thought they should have been a boat all day,” said one man, who Herald has agreed not to name.

Local boaters were thanked for their “heroic deeds” in helping to recover three bodies from the water after a ship overturned near Manukau Heads and the notoriously dangerous bar.

A fourth man on the boat, 23, was airlifted to Auckland hospital and is recovering in moderate condition.

Police confirmed the three men were 54, 61 and 70 years old. An investigation into the trouble caused by the boat has been launched by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC). Police are investigating, along with Maritime New Zealand, on behalf of the coroner.

The Coast Guard said more than 200 boats had reported crossing the bar on Saturday.

A man who was on his boat when the recovery efforts took place said he wished the coastguard had been nearby that day due to the crowds.

“I think they should have been there, with so many boats. The Coast Guard should have been there.

“The most dangerous part of this port is the bar, and there have been 200 reported crossings, you could say 100 more not reporting their crossings, it was an accident waiting to happen.”

The man said he felt “disappointed” with their response. He helped pick up life jackets from the wreckage of the capsized boat.

He said larger boats already moored in Huia came to help.

“When I got back to the beach they were doing CPR on [the victims] and then they dropped the [rescue] helicopter but … it wasn’t going to happen, they weren’t coming back. “

He said it was difficult for everyone involved.

Another local man, Phillip Keane, was fishing near Manukau Heads on Saturday morning.

He saw a large number of boats crossing the bar that day and said many were small boats or headed alone.

Keane said there was no coastguard base near the Manukau bar.

“On that bar it spins. It’s like an instant thing, it’s not like you’re going to sink for a good 10 to 15 minutes. If you have a problem, the problem is going to hit you pretty quickly.

“Once you’re in the water, you probably have a few minutes to get out of it. The currents are quite strong.

“You have to have respect for this bar, it’s probably one of the most dangerous in the country.”

Keane said conditions were “absolutely perfect” in the morning, but the wind picked up a bit in the afternoon. He arrived ashore before low tide around noon.

“At low tide it will always be more choppy. There is less channel for the water to pass through, so in terms of unpredictability it gets a bit hairy.

“You really don’t want to go when it’s wind against the tide too, it hurts a bit.”

He agreed the Coast Guard knew it was a busy day and could have been on hold.

“If something were to go wrong, it would probably happen on a day like this.

“So many boats, so many inexperienced boats going through. It was a bit of a chaotic day.

“The Coast Guard probably should have had someone there, but I know it’s all voluntary and it can be difficult.”

Keane said he had completed the bar crossing seminar and bar training was available, but there were no clear channel markers.

Five people died in the port of Manukau last week, including a diver and a kayaker.

“It reminds you that you have to be pretty careful out there,” Keane said.

The Coast Guard has been approached for comment.

Coast Guard Chief Executive Officer Callum Gillespie told the Herald yesterday that they had been alerted to the incident by police and helped attempt to retrieve the vessel without success.

The crews from Papakura and Waiuku responded.

Police, along with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, Maritime NZ, Surf Life Saving NZ, Coastguard and St John Ambulance responded to the incident.

Maritime NZ Review

A report from Maritime New Zealand released today reveals that nearly 100 people died in boating accidents between January 2015 and December 2020.

A majority died by drowning after falling overboard, or the vessel capsized or was submerged (filling with water).

The greatest number of accidents occurred in small motor boats, small inflatable or non-motorized boats or inflatable boats.

Most boating accidents happened suddenly and people ended up in the water before they had time to use emergency equipment that they had not already worn.

“The tragedy at Manukau Bar with the loss of three lives over the weekend is a horrific introduction to Safer Boating Week,” said Deputy Director Sharyn Forsyth.

“We hoped these lives could have been saved. Our sincere condolences go out to the families of those lost.”

TAIC survey

Two TAIC investigators are in Auckland to begin an investigation into the tragedy, including speaking with witnesses and attempting to recover wreckage, photos or videos of the incident.

TAIC marine surveys typically take over a year.

The Commission’s Watchlist calls for boating rules to require people to demonstrate that they can understand and practice safe boating behavior before captaining a pleasure craft.

“At present, the authorities are promoting the autonomy, responsibility of captains and safety awareness through educational campaigns for boaters. They include a lot of information about navigation rules, regulations and orders, ”said chief accident investigator Harald Hendel.

“That’s great. But the maritime rules for pleasure craft should require that captains know the rules, understand them and have the skills to comply with them.

“Twelve years ago, the Commission recommended that the Department of Transport address this problem, and we still look forward to it happening.”


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