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Fatal boat crash is a ‘wake-up call’

Tragic loss: New Zealand visitor Mary Elizabeth McKee (Photograph supplied)

A boat crash that killed a New Zealand visitor was a “wake-up call” for Bermudian mariners, the head of the island’s Water Safety Council said yesterday.

Scott Simmons emphasised Bermuda had an excellent marine safety record, but that the killer crash was a reminder of why the rules of the road at sea had to be followed.

He said: “We sometimes assume that everyone will do the right thing and for the right reason.

“There was a comment that no one even thought about putting on a life jacket.

“It was a wake-up call for all Bermudians that there are some things that we just must do that save lives.”

Mr Simmons added: “I think we recognise that this was the result of a combination of issues that could have been avoided. It means we need to step up and do things better.

“We may never be able to prevent every unfortunate loss of life in Bermuda’s waterways, but we can resolve to take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes that are made.”

Mary McKee, 62, died on June 1 last year after a late-night collision in Hamilton Harbour.

Andrew Lake, the driver of the second boat, admitted he was travelling above the speed limit.

Lake was cleared at trial of manslaughter but earlier pleaded guilty to causing death by reckless driving.

The court heard the boat Ms McKee was travelling in — driven by yacht captain Charlie Watson — did not have navigation lights and Ms McKee was not wearing a life jacket.

Mr Simmons said last week that the death was a tragedy, but added that such crashes are rare in Bermuda, given the amount of marine traffic.

He explained: “We have been pretty lucky in that we have had very few notable incidents and part of that is because Bermudians are generally courteous and give way.

“That courtesy continues on the water. It is a mentality that helps prevent collisions.”

Mr Simmons said that one of the problems with water safety in Bermuda was ease of access to boats.

He said the majority of sailors knew and understood the rules of the road, but not everyone out on the water did.

Mr Simmons said: “It is fairly easy to rent a powerboat or a jet ski and I don’t think anybody asks them about their level of expertise.

“They just show them how to manage the watercraft. You take it and you take off.”

Mr Simmons said the Water Safety Council had several programmes it wanted to introduce to help improve safety at sea, including a CITV series on the Government TV channel CITV and a children’s colouring book.

Mr Simmons said the colouring book would be a component of the group’s existing work in schools.

He said: “No young boy is excited about putting on a life jacket.

“But if we can deliver that message to children, it means that when he is out on the boat with his family, he can deliver that message.

“He will ask his parents about life jackets and if they have a way of communicating with the shore other than a mobile phone.”

Mr Simmons said he was not concerned about the effect of increase of visiting yachts on marine safety if Bermuda was to boost the island’s attraction as a sailing destination.

He explained seafarers at the helm of such vessels — particularly megayachts — were experienced and well trained.

Mr Simmons said: “What we find is that they are professionals in their field. I don’t foresee them being the problem.”