Thefts put lives, environment at risk; Harbourmaster

11 Apr 2017, 12:33 PM

The irresponsible theft of solar panels, batteries and other equipment from key navigation aids for large ships has potentially put lives – and the environment – at risk in Whangarei Harbour, officials say.

The Northland Regional Council's Regional Harbourmaster Jim Lyle says any damage to navigation aids is frowned upon for very obvious reasons.

"But when it involves key ones in a harbour such as Whangarei where large ships are carrying substantial quantities of oil and other cargoes, this creates a huge risk to both life and the environment."

The first light is 14 metres tall and an important navigation aid used by large commercial ships travelling to and from Portland and Whangarei.Mr Lyle says in recent incidents, thieves had stolen equipment from two Northport navigation aids; the large Tamaterau Port Entry Light at the north-western end of Tamaterau Reach near Onerahi and a much smaller navigation aid on the western side of One Tree Pt.

"Six 200 Watt solar panels and brackets, a wind generator and post and a number of batteries collectively worth several thousand dollars were stolen."

That theft has rendered the light inoperable, forcing authorities to issue a formal safety warning to ships, with a temporary power supply due to be installed today as a stopgap solution until repairs proper can be done within the next six weeks.

Mr Lyle says with today's repairs, the light will still only have limited power and will need to be turned off when not required for a transiting ship.

"All ships transiting the upper harbour that require this light will need to radio ahead through Whangarei Harbour Radio so the light can be turned on before they pass the refinery."

Meanwhile, he says about the same time at the other incident, thieves had also taken a battery and solar panels from a second much smaller navigation aid near One Tree Pt, again used by ships travelling to Portland and Whangarei.

Mr Lyle says both the council and Northport take an extremely dim view of the thieves' actions and if caught, those responsible will face prosecution. They could also be held liable for any resulting injury, damage or environmental incident arising from their actions.

The importance of navigation safety aids means it is illegal to even tie up to one without prior approval from the Harbourmaster, let alone "damage, remove, deface or otherwise interfere with" them.

Mr Lyle says leaving aside the practical considerations from the thefts, they also portrayed the region negatively to those aboard the many vessels – international and national – that visited.

"Is this how we want Northland to be known, as the home of thieves who have no regard for safety?"