Additional theft means no temporary fix for key nav light

13 Apr 2017

Additional theft and damage means a planned temporary fix to an important Whangarei Harbour navigation light is no longer possible; with the light now likely to be out action for at least several weeks.

Thieves targeted Northport's 14-metre high Tamaterau Port Entry Light near Onerahi last week, stealing thousands of dollars' worth of solar panels, batteries and other equipment, and rendering it inoperable.

The light is an important navigation aid used by large commercial ships heading to and from Portland and Whangarei and temporary repairs had been planned for earlier this week.

However, when Northport workers went to carry out those repairs on Tuesday, they found the thieves had apparently returned to steal electrical control equipment they had been unable to remove last time.

Tony Browne, the Northland Regional Council's Deputy Harbourmaster, says the latest theft and damage at the site means a temporary solution that would have delivered limited power to the light is no longer possible.

He says Northport estimates it could now potentially take a number of weeks to obtain and manufacture the necessary parts to repair the light.

In the meantime, a new navigation safety warning for the area has now been issued, advising the light is still inoperable and urging ships to navigate with caution.

The thefts have been reported to police and Mr Browne reiterated earlier statements that officials take an extremely dim view of the thieves' actions.

"This navigation light is used by large ships carrying substantial quantities of oil and other cargoes; its loss leaves us in a less-than-ideal situation and puts both human safety and the environment at increased and unnecessary risk."

Mr Browne says ships use the directional lead light to ensure they remain in the deepest part of the Tamaterau Reach channel and it's a very important visual reference for a ship's captain and pilot during the approach to Whangarei.

With the light inoperable, ships – many of which already rely on suitable tidal conditions to enter the harbour – will have to consider additional measures to ensure they can navigate safety in the channel, especially under low-light and reduced visibility conditions.

"It's disappointing that thieves are prepared to put their own selfish needs ahead of the safety and security of the wider public and our environment."

Mr Browne repeated an earlier warning that if caught, those responsible will face prosecution and could also be held liable for any resulting injury, damage or environmental incident arising from their actions.

He says the location and nature of navigation aids makes it difficult to protect them from thieves, especially if they were determined.

The same offenders are believed to be responsible for another incident last week that had seen a battery and solar panels taken from a second much smaller navigation aid near One Tree Pt, again used by ships travelling to Portland and Whangarei.