Compensation fund for coastal rescues up for debate

Wednesday August 10, 2022

Media release published by The Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell.

In the wake of yet another ocean rescue off the coast of Port MacDonnell by local fishers, Independent MP Troy Bell has renewed calls for the establishment of a marine rescue fund to compensate local fishers for their time and costs.

In the absence of a professional marine rescue service at Port MacDonnell, Mr Bell said local fishers were being asked to rescue people from ailing sinking vessels along the south-east coastline but were putting themselves and their boats at risk in the process.

“I have been told of as many as 15-20 rescues by professional and recreational fishers over the last decade, some of which fly under the public radar,” he said.

“There has been a longstanding agreement between local police and the community of Port MacDonnell to conduct these rescues and the professional fishing fleet have always selflessly come forward to offer their time when they have been called on.

“However, we cannot rely on the goodwill of people forever, plus expect them to shoulder the costs associated.”

A motion put forward by the Mount Gambier MP to establish the fund will be debated in State Parliament later this year.

With the closest marine rescue service located at Kingston, Mr Bell said if trouble occurred in Port MacDonnell waters, help was a two-hour boat ride away.

“There have been calls for a Marine Rescue Service to be located at Port MacDonnell and I believe this should still be explored but at the very least, there should be a compensation fund for the people out there doing the work now.”

Along with lost time and fuel, Mr Bell said fishers were also shouldering a heavy liability risk.

“If a fisher is conducting rescue operations outside their normal duties and something unforeseen happens, will fishing boats still be covered by insurance or will it be null and void? These are the questions that need answering.”

In July last year, the Mount Gambier MP wrote to the former Minister for Emergency Services Vincent Tarzia after another incident where a professional crayfisher came to the aid of a recreational vessel, eventually towing the yacht back to shore.

“The response was that the SES was looking into the viability of a marine rescue service for the south-east but we’ve heard nothing more since then,” he said.

“So, at the start of this year I put forward a motion to establish a Marine Rescue Fund so the issue can be properly debated and an outcome decided upon.

“It’s time to ensure these fishers get recognised for the vital service they provide and a very simple way to do that is by ensuring they are compensated for their time and efforts.”

The motion will come before State Parliament in November, however Mr Bell said he would be raising the discussion with the new State Minister for Emergency Services Joe Szakacs when Parliament resumed in September.

“Every time we have a boat in trouble out there, this issue will be raised again,” he said. “It shouldn’t take a tragedy to prompt some action.”