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New Zealand’s reputation as a safe tourism destination took another blow today with a Northern Advocate report about several tourists being injured on commercially operated “fast boat” rides in the Bay of Islands.
The paper says that all the tourists were injured in the Excitor III, a 300 horsepower boat in January and March of this year.
An Auckland grandmother, Petula Patey, is said to have been in a body brace for 12 weeks since fracturing her back whilst on the thrill seeking boat trip to the Hole in the Rock on 12 January. Both she and her friend from England were sitting at the rear of the boat and had to be rescued.
Another tourist, an Australian woman, was injured on 22 March and she will probably be off work until early May. No details were released about her injuries.
According to the Advocate the boat is operated by Fullers GreatSights Bay of Islands. Last Friday Maritime New Zealand “banned” the boat from doing any further commercial work whilst an investigation is underway, adding
On its website, Fullers BOI says the Excitor III trip is not available at the moment.
However, the publicity for the trip urges caution:
“Feel the adrenalin as the power of four 300hp V8 engines race you through the islands of the Bay and along the Cape Brett Peninsula. Adrenalin junkies will love the ‘extreme seats’ at the front … CAUTION: these are not for the faint hearted. The Excitor thrives in large waves, so the bigger the swell, the bigger the buzz.”
And the bigger the risks and the more severe the injuries.
Update 12 April 2011
We have learned of another spinal fracture on a separate high-speed tourist boat in Northland. The Northern Advocate reported today that tourist Cathy Cooke broke her back last December when she was thrown out of her seat whilst on board Mack Attack. She was not wearing her seat belt as per requirements. The incident is under investigation by Maritime New Zealand.
According to what Maritime NZ’s general manager of maritime services, Sharyn Forsyth, told the Advocate
The general purpose of investigations of this nature was to determine whether there were any regulatory breaches or wider safety issues that may require further action.
Following preliminary inquiries, she said Mack Attack had been issued with a prohibition notice on January 12 due to concerns about the state of the vessel.
“At this time, MNZ also identified the vessel was not compliant with safe ship management [SSM] requirements.” read the full report here
Doctors are hopeful that Ms Cooke may one day be able to walk again. Her father told the paper she is able to stand up between parallel bars. He said he wanted to “ensure that steps were taken to prevent anyone else receiving similar injuries.”
The Mack Attack’s web site tells visitors
Bay of Islands FASTEST boat to the Hole in the Rock…
Join us aboard the Mack Attack for more speed & excitement
Take an exhilarating 1½ hour trip through the Bay of Islands on Mack Attack the fastest, most spectacular way to see the famous Hole in the Rock.
Enjoy the thrill of travelling at speeds of up to 100kms, and the informative commentary of your skipper. Stop for photo and video opportunities and to observe the abundant wildlife of the stunning Bay of Islands.
Returning now to the Excitor article.
The Excitor has been described by contributors to Wikiepedia as
“… a fast boat tourist experience in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. It is used on a high-speed trip through the scenic bay out to Cape Brett, where the boat travels through the ‘Hole in the Rock’, a natural sea-tunnel (wave-heights permitting). The boat was operated by Tourism Holdings Ltd, and is now operated by InterCity Group (NZ) Ltd.
Passengers sitting in the open boat have to wear life jackets, and waves swamping the boat have been reported, though it is designed to quickly drain the water through its stern
Over the years 3 boats have been used to deliver the experience, the first boat was also involved in an ‘accident’ involving passengers aged 3 to 69 who were forced to swim for safety in very difficult conditions in semi-darkness.
Excitor I accident
The Excitor I was involved in a serious incident in 1998, when a mechanical failure in the gearbox linkage caused the boat to become unsteerable while entering Cathedral Cave. With the starboard engine still running ahead, the bow of the vessel collided with the cave wall. Twenty-nine people aboard had to abandon the boat and were forced to “swim for their lives” to the mouth of the cave, while the boat was battered against the cave roof by 3 m high wave swells. After 20 minutes, the operator was able to reverse the boat out of the cave, radio for help, and pick up the passengers. One person sustained light injuries, and one young child suffered hypothermia.
Passengers involved in the incident accused the operator of subsequently downplaying the duration and the risks during the incident, such as the danger of being dashed against rocks.They were also critical of the (at that time unreleased) official incident report by the Maritime Safety Authority, which was said to have failed to address contributing factors such as the late arrival (5 pm) of the boat at the cave, the height of the swells outside the cave mouth, as well as alleged fatigue of the skipper.
The NZ Herald reported on 1 Jan 1999
“…The boat, owned and operated by Graeme Rodley, was extensively damaged during the incident on Wednesday evening, although it managed to limp back to port. Mr Rodley said the passengers had to swim 20m and were in the water for no more than five minutes.
He said the only injury was a scratched knee and the whole incident lasted just 10 minutes.
However, those at the scene say their situation was more dire. Aucklander Philip Jennings was aboard the Excitor and said passengers were in the water for up to an hour. There were very real fears that the swells would dash them against rocks.
He said they were forced to swim up to 100m to stay clear of the rocks – a difficult task with young children to look after. Mr Jennings and his wife, Helen, said the first sign of trouble came before the Excitor entered Cathedral Cave.
He said the driver, known only as Will, was unable to put the ply-and-fibreglass boat into reverse. When they reached the back wall, which slopes down at 45 degrees, the driver again had trouble finding reverse.
He swore and told passengers to hold on. The swells drove the bow of the boat into the cave roof, forcing the stern up with each swell. Mr Jennings said front passengers began to panic and scrambled over seats towards the rear of the boat just as the bow started breaking up.
Passengers were told to inflate their lifejackets and swim to safety from the stern…” read the full report here
Other boating accidents involving tourists in New Zealand
63 year old Canadian tourist Richard Evans was killed in a jet boat crash in Tauranga Harbour in February.
The same month there was a boating collision in the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island. An Outward Bound cutter and a Dolphin Watch Ecotours boat came into contact, leaving one woman seriously injured and seven others requiring treatment for minor to moderate injuries.
n December an Australian doctor, 49 year old Catherine Carlyle from Adelaide, was flown to hospital with severe lacerations after coming into contact with a boat propeller in Ruakaka Bay, Marlborough Sounds.
Ms Carlyle hit the the boat’s prop as she jumped off the back of the Dolphin Watch Ecotours vessel, sustaining deep lacerations to her legs and a possible fracture.
Before that young American tourist Emily May Parker, from Denver Colorado, was found face down in Marlborough Sound whilst on a tour with Dolphin Ecowatch Tours in October 2009.
In November 2010 five people were taken to hospital when their Shotover Jet boat collided with a cliff wall near Queenstown, among them were tourists from Germany, the United States and Britain.
In September 2008, Chinese tourist Yan Wang, 42, was killed when a jetboat operated by Kawarau Jets flipped over in the Shotover River.
Since 1995 the NZ Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has investigated at least 20 occurrences involving jet boats.
Three involved high-speed rollovers: one each in 1997, 1998 and 2008.
The Commission made safety recommendations covering the fitment of rollover bars on jet boats operating on braided river systems and the need for accurate recording of passenger numbers on boats to assist emergency services. These three rollover accidents resulted in one fatality, five serious injuries and three minor injuries.
After series of fatal ‘accidents’ (mostly involving tourists) there was a wide ranging review of adventure tourism in New Zealand that found gaps in safety. Following the review recommendations were made to introduce a registration scheme (not licensing) and mandatory auditing
Regulations were recently introduced that will require operators to be registered and to undertake regular certificated safety audits.
Unfortunately the new regs don’t take effect until October 2011 after which there will be a three year long period of grace before all businesses will be required to comply.
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