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New Zealand Government not interested in keeping Coastguard Afloat

Margie Sorensen -- 23/05/2007

The Government this month has put paid to the years of work invested into the country's long overdue revamp of Search and Rescue services. Coastguard New Zealand, Search & Rescue Officials and other SAR stakeholders have carried out extensive work, with Search and Rescue experts identifying the existence of substantial and significant risks within the NZ SAR system, and for which a comprehensive, cohesive and justifiable Budget bid was prepared to ensure long term and secure government support to mitigate the risks identified.

This advice and the subsequent solutions have been ignored.

Expressing his disgust at Treasury ignoring the critical need for Budget support, Coastguard New Zealand's CEO Kevin Rangi today spoke vehemently: "This is yet another indication of the Government's unwillingness to address real issues confronting real New Zealanders. We are a maritime nation, demonstrated by the fact that more than 1 in every 3 of us takes part in recreational boating every year."

"For the government to continue to expect volunteers to fund the costs of providing and maintaining rescue boats and equipment, and their training is outrageous. This is a gross dereliction of duty, which will result in New Zealanders drowning."

At the same time Mr Rangi acknowledged the exceptional contribution that Coastguard volunteers make to the safety and wellbeing of New Zealand's marine communities.

"It is repugnant that the Government has not recognised the commitment and dedication made by this group of people. They do much more than simply crew rescue boats in appalling conditions to save those who have the misfortune of needing assistance when at sea."

Huge responsibilities undertaken by Coastguard volunteers
To date volunteers have been responsible for not only providing the crews but also for raising funds for fuel, training, and the capital costs associated with the purchase of their search and rescue vessels. They rely largely on their local communities as well as grants from the Lotteries Grants Board and gaming foundations for resourcing.

Mr Rangi said "With the increasingly sophisticated technology available today, recreational boaties feel more confident about venturing further than they may have done even 10 years ago. For our crews to be able to assist these mariners when they get into trouble, they require appropriate vessels and the equipment and technology that will enable a quick and successful resolution to any potential disaster."

"These developments have created a situation where it has become beyond our average local community to fund replacements for the aging Coastguard fleet. We had trusted that the government would make some investment in the strong maritime heritage of New Zealand, and the high number of Kiwis who participate in recreational boating. Coastguard is the Fire Service and the Ambulance on the water. It is not therefore unrealistic to expect that this sector of the community is supported in the same way that our Fire Service and Ambulance are on land. On the water it is impossible to just get out and walk!"

"Most New Zealanders are surprised to learn that Coastguard receives no government funding support. Should New Zealanders be surprised that the government doesn't care that the substantial risks identified by the Search and Rescue experts still exist or that the government is willing to live with the number of people who will die?"

Daily running costs
A Coastguard rescue vessel costs around $280 per hour to run. On average Coastguard sends out 10 rescue crews a day to assist someone who is needing help on the water.

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