NT Police say recreational fishers anchoring in the shipping channel is an accident waiting to happen. (Supplied: NT Police)
Darwin water police have cracked down on recreational fishers anchored in the harbour’s busy shipping channel, amid fears skippers are playing chicken with huge vessels.
Over the weekend police issued a number of $350 fines to fishermen anchored in the channel, which is prohibited because it can prevent a speedy getaway when larger ships approach.
In one incident, police say a number of small vessels were anchored in the path of a 300-metre, 130,000-tonne gas tanker.
Sergeant John Pini said the channel had become busier since shipments of gas from the INPEX Icthys plant began regularly moving through the harbour, bound for Japan.
“With the increased traffic in very large vessels, it can create the risk of someone being overrun by a vessel or sunk by the wake of vessels as they leave the harbour,” he said.
Darwin Port general manager Ian Niblock told ABC Radio Darwin‘s Adam Steer that a number of recreational vessels have had to cut their anchors in order to flee in hurry.
The exact location of the shipping channel is available on government and Darwin Port websites. (Supplied: Darwin Port)
“Would you park your little family car on the Stuart Highway while there’s a road train bearing down on you and expect the road train to go around you?
“The problem is people get so intent on fishing activity they don’t even notice the big ship coming down on them.
“We have vessels disappearing under the bow of the ships because they’ve decided they’ll cross ahead of the ship.
“They’re comfortable passing 100 metres in front of the ship, but we’re not comfortable with that.”
Despite a number of fishermen telling him they didn’t know where the shipping channel was, Mr Pini maintained it was the skipper’s responsibility to consult guidelines before heading out.
Renewed calls for registration, licensing
The crackdown has also renewed calls for boat registration and licensing systems.
When the Government vowed to introduce blood-alcohol limits for boat skippers following a wide-ranging review of alcohol policy earlier this year, some fishermen feared the law would bring with it a licensing and registration system.
Given his Darwin Port staff have to observe strict regulations to enter the same body of water as recreational fishermen, Mr Niblock said he would welcome such a system.
“We’re operating on the same piece of water as those people who have limited knowledge,” he said.
“I think some kind of licensing and some kind of education and testing related to that education, so we know that the operator of the boat understands what he or she should be doing in order to keep themselves safe, would be a really good start.”
Mr Pini said registration or vehicle identification would make his job easier but that it was a matter for the Government, adding the most jurisdictions in Australia do have a licensing system.
“There is an advantage there that people are able to be educated more easily,” he said.
“Similarly, there are other jurisdictions without licensing where they rely on the adage that it’s the skipper’s responsibility to be aware.
“Whether you do or don’t have it, it’s the skipper’s responsibility to make sure that he does know.”