Harbourmaster unimpressed by harbour marker vandalism

10 Nov 2016, 9:20 AM

Apparent pranksters who repainted a historic Hokianga Harbour navigation marker are potentially putting lives at risk, unimpressed local authority maritime staff say.

The East Cardinal Mark, a riveted cast iron structure on Takataka Rock at the northern end of the Hokianga Harbour's Narrows, is supposed to have a black top and bottom section with a yellow middle; an internationally recognised colour system to assist with safe navigation.

Jim Lyle, Regional Harbourmaster for the Northland Regional Council, says the beacon – which also has a white light which flashes three times every 10 seconds – has been helping vessels navigate in safe water to the east of it for many years.

However, sometime over the past few weeks someone had repainted it white with a blue stripe.

At this stage the motivation for the prank was unclear, although he had been advised the beacon's new unauthorised look "happens to be the colour of the local rugby team".

Mr Lyle says the repaint was discovered and reported by the local Coastguard during a training trip and while the apparent prank might seem amusing to some, his office took a very dim view of it.

"The matter had been reported to police, who have been asked to assist in finding whoever was responsible."

"There are a number of issues associated with the illegal painting of the structure, the most important being the risk to safety of mariners."

Mr Lyle says it's an offence under the council's bylaws and the Maritime Transport Act to damage or deface an aid to navigation and those responsible could be fined up to $10,000.

The council has issued a formal navigation warning through the local Coastguard radio station to warn harbour users of the incorrectly coloured beacon and now faces 'significant' costs of many thousands of dollars to repaint it.

"Unfortunately we can't just slap more paint over the top of an unknown paint," he says. "Painting structures exposed to salt environments requires correct preparation, and high quality paint systems."

Mr Lyle says removing the paint is also quite difficult as it will also depend to some extent on favourable weather, will require the use of scaffolding and the marker can only be accessed from the water.

That means equipment for the job will need to be ferried out to the rock, which requires suitable vessels, and all the work is unscheduled and comes just before the maritime team's busy summer season starts.

Mr Lyle says if an offender is located, the council will attempt to recover some of the extensive costs from them.

Meanwhile, he says the council will take advantage of the forced repaint to do some unrelated engineering work on the structure.