A senior official from Maritime Safety Queensland admits there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way the maritime industry deals with severe weather events in north Queensland.
General manager of MSQ Patrick Quirk made the comment when questioned about the plight of more than 80 vessels either left high and dry or sunk by the touchdown of Cyclone Debbie in the Whitsundays three weeks ago.
“We can’t keep doing this every year,” he said.
“We need to bite the bullet and get some sustainable systems in place. We need to change the way we look at these things.
“We are talking with the industry to better prepare when these cyclones and big blows hit .
“You can’t beat nature but you can be better prepared.”
Mr Quirk said of the 80 boat owners affected by north Queensland’s latest severe weather event, about half were working with MSQ to salvage vessels from public beaches and waterways.
The other half are dodging their responsibility by scratching identification lettering from hulls and not answering phone calls.
Mr Quirk wouldn’t specify how long a craft would remain beached before MSQ stepped in to begin salvage.
He noted MSQ was sympathetic to the financial demands of boat owners after a disaster of such magnitude but “if we have an owner who is clearly recalcitrant we can offer a direction and we can deem the vessel to be abandoned”, he said.
Alternatively, owners can forfeit ownership rights and sign the vessel over to MSQ.
“For a lot of people, their yachts were their homes. We understand some people don’t have a lot of money,” Mr Quirk said.
A reality that rings true for Stuart Harris, the owner of Munn, a 36-foot ketch that has been his home for the past 27 years.
Munn broke her moorings at Shute Harbour during Cyclone Debbie and now lies stranded on a beach near the Whitsunday Rent A Yacht jetty.
Soon after the yacht became beached, Mr Harris said MSQ had threatened him with fines and a jail term if they were not paid.
Since then Mr Harris had submitted a schedule of salvage and outlined what he planned to do with the vessel.
Mr Harris said he was now in “limbo with the government” as MSQ had not responded to the schedule of salvage.
“They don’t care, or are not interested in anyone’s financial situation. They are only interested in removing the boats from the beach,” he said.
The Whitsunday Regional Council has granted permission for Mr Harris to lift the yacht into the ferry terminal carpark at Shute Harbour but the cost of a crane to lift it is immense.
Mr Harris has been quoted $1200 an hour for the use of a crane and he estimates it will cost a total of $10,000 to totally remove the vessel.
Mr Quirk said the State Government had to balance the needs of local government and what was realistic from cyclone-affected boat owners.
He said there was a process that needed to be followed in terms of the law.
“We can’t take people to court if we know people can’t afford to pay. It’s something you have to accept and the fact is some people have nothing left,” Mr Quirk said.
Source – Whitsunday Times