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Published: 2013-02-26 00:00:00

Joint media release; Waikato Regional Council is the first local government authority in New Zealand to be given extra powers by Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) to investigate serious incidents on the water.

MNZ Director Keith Manch said the authorisations under the Maritime Transport Act increased the tools available to the council when investigating incidents. 

“Authorised council officers now have the same powers as MNZ Maritime Officers to access and collect evidence, including gaining warrants to search premises,” he said. 

“Waikato Regional Council has demonstrated its commitment to make its waterways safe and it is a logical move to give the council these authorisations. Working with the council in this way ensures that it has the full set of resources available when working to increase safety on the water.” 

Mr Manch said the MNZ compliance approach utilises a range of tools to support safety outcomes – using information, education, assistance and enforcement action – depending on the circumstances of any non-compliance and what is the best way to address a specific breach of the rules or law, or a wider safety issue.

“Enforcement through prosecution is just one of the tools available when it comes to changing behaviour on the water. While information, education and assistance can be effective in supporting compliance, enforcement action is also an important way of supporting safety. It demonstrates that there are consequences for not taking safety responsibilities seriously, ensures people are held to account for their actions and reminds the wider community that operating safely is important,” he said. 

Waikato Regional Council’s navigation safety programme manager Nicole Botherway said the new powers had been available to staff over the busy summer period and made it easier to work with other agencies, such as the police, to identify the cause of an incident and gather evidence. 

Already a sentence has been handed down in one case and another two are before the courts, with four other incidents under active investigation by the council. 

“We are working hard in the Waikato to keep our waterways safe for all users by carrying out education and enforcement work. But with the water so accessible and being used in such varied ways, incidents do occur. 

“It’s important people using Waikato’s waterways understand that safety is paramount and we will investigate reckless behaviour which endangers lives,” Mrs Botherway said. 

A serious crash in 2011 between two jet boats on Waiomou Stream, near Matamata, had highlighted the potential benefits of the additional powers, she said. 

“While the council successfully prosecuted the two jet boat drivers, our investigation and the subsequent court case would have been more straightforward if we’d had these authorisations at the time,” said Mrs Botherway. 

Several staff from the council’s navigation safety and investigations teams have so far been assessed as having the skills to exercise the new powers and others will be selected to undergo the required MNZ training. 

The authorisations relate to sections 58, 59 and 455 of the Maritime Transport Act, and are made after an assessment of documentation and processes, with authorised staff assessed on their skills and experience. 

“We will be assessing the effectiveness of these authorisations with a view to discussing a similar process with other local authorities over time,” Mr Manch said.