Wednesday, May 12, 2010
" 'ECO'-TOUR BOAT KILLS SNORKELER, WHALES AT RISK/NATURE vs. WESTERN AUSTRALIA GOVERNMENT by Jeff Phillips
INTRODUCTION: This is a letter to bureaucrats in western Australia under whose jurisdiction gross violations of marine safety and respect for life, human and non-human, are taking place. My objectives are not only to create awareness and a sense of responsibility in government officials, but more importantly, to catalyse new legislation at the state and federal levels to impose speed limits on all motorized boats, and to ban motorized whale-watching.
“If you were a whale, which would YOU prefer: MORE ‘scientists’ in noisy motorized boats following you around your breeding-grounds and migratory routes, photographing you, recording your conversations (and selling these recordings WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION!), and even shooting darts into you to retrieve DNA samples…or the reduction or elimination of meat-grinding propellers, skull-splitting noise from boat motors, and harassment by motorized whale-watching tours…while remaining approachable and amicable to nice people who visit in peace on quiet and truly ecological sail boats?"
The government of Western Australia is in a precedent-setting position to move on this…but will they?
LET THEM HEAR WHAT YOU THINK!
NOTE: Do I REALLY expect ‘action’ from a ‘government’ who refuses to restrain or regulate clear-felling of old growth forests, mining of any kind, the militarisation of its continent, trawling of World Heritage areas, or the on-going debacle of ‘scientific whaling’ conducted in an ocean ‘sanctuary’ for which it is legally responsible according to international agreement? NO! It’s not likely that Sea Shepherd/Animal Planet are coming to the rescue, nor are Louie Psihoyos/Industrial Light & Magic likely to plant hidden cameras in the Aquarush’s “safety management system.” But…I can certainly do my best not only to create awareness in a broad network of minds, but also to ‘guilt trip’ the officials into considering the real-world implications of what they are allowing. That is, if the ‘crats can find the time to read this lengthy document in between “meetings”, golf games and luncheons over at Woodside and Rio Tinto.
I suggest to them that they think of me as a “lobbyist” for the cetaceans…”the most acoustically sensitive, socially evolved, and, indeed, ‘intelligent’ life-forms on this planet.” I can think of no better measure of true ‘intelligence’ than whether or not a species actively contributes to the destruction of its home, and thereby, itself; homo sapiens, “man, the wise” is alone here, isolated at the supreme pinnacle of estrangement from nature. In truth, we are the ONLY species of life that demonstrates the absence of intelligence.
RELEVANT TOPICS: reckless boat operation in ecologically sensitive areas; loss of life, human and non-human; the failure of regulation, at the individual and bureaucratic levels; creation of new legislation implementing speed limits for all boating activity and banning of motorized whale-watching; fossil-fuel consumption.
ABSTRACT: In 2009 in Shark Bay WA we did an “eco” tour on the Aquarush, operated by Gregg Ridgely, for the purpose of seeing whales. We thought we were going on a catamaran, but it turned out to be a military-grade speedboat with twin 225 h.p. engines. Throughout the tour we felt like our lives were endangered by Ridgely’s excessive speed; marine life-forms we encountered seemed equally at risk. Elderly passengers demanded that he slow down. We actually witnessed him driving the boat with his feet while looking through binoculars in another direction. Upon disembarking, we asked him if he’d ever hit anything. His response: “Not that I know of.” Two weeks later I received an email from a local informing me that in December of 2008 Ridgely had hit and killed a snorkeler, and didn’t even know it until passengers informed him; that Ridgely was still in operation seemed a mystery. Since October of 2009 I’ve been involved in formal complaint procedures with the government of western Australia. What follows is my response to the latest email from Simon O’Brien, Minister of Transportation of WA, under whose jurisdiction this has taken place; it is intended as a message to all government officials in WA, the people and ‘leadership’ of Australia as a whole, and the world.
LINK TO NEWSPAPER ARTICLE: http://www.theage.com.au/national/driver-passengers-to-be-quizzed-over-snorkellers-death-20081231-77p2.html
ATTACHMENTS: letter from Simon O’Brien, Aquarush propellers photo, dead dolphin in Swan River, Fremantle WA, from chemical toxins
TO: Simon O’Brien, Min. Transportation WA
Elizabeth Constable, Min. Tourism/Education WA
Donna Faragher, Min. Environment WA
Peter Garrett, Min. Environment, Australia
CC: Eacham Curry, asst. to Min. Transportation WA
Yvette Roper, asst. to Min. Transportation WA
Tiffany Fleay, asst. to Min. Transportation WA
Elissa Smith, asst. Min. Environment WA
Colin Barnett, premier, Western Australia
Terry Redman, Min. Agriculture/Forestry WA
Curt & Micheline Jenner, Centre for Whale Research
Wally & Trish Franklin, Oceania Project
Peter Garrett, Min. Environment, Australia
Capt. Paul Watson, founder/director, Sea Shepherd Cons. Soc.
Kim McCoy, executive director, Sea Shepherd Cons. Soc.
Alex Earle, director of operations, Sea Shepherd Cons. Soc.
Louie & Viki Psihoyos, director, The Cove, award-winning doco
Jim Nollman, founder/director, Interspecies Communication
Douglas Webster, Cetacean Nation
David Bradbury, film-maker (The Last Whale, Blowin’ in the Wind)
Dr. Roger Payne, Ocean Alliance
Robert Bednarik, director, Intl. Federation for Rock Art Research
Ken Boundy, director, World Wildlife Fund Australia
Sen. Bob Brown, Greens MP, Tasmania
Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder, Physicians for Social Responsibility
David Condon, environmental film-maker
Steve Shallhorn, CEO, Greenpeace Australia
Andrew McEvoy, managing director, Tourism Australia
Mark Ellingham, founder, Rough Guides
Matt Goldberg, CEO, Lonely Planet
Kelly Brough, Global On-line Director, Lonely Planet
Friends of the Earth Australia
Dear Minister O’Brien:
Thanks for your correspondence of 19 April re: the on-going Aquarush issue. Despite your assurances that a “safety management system” was in place on Aquarush, and that Transport is “monitoring” its activities, as well as noting that there have been no other complaints against Gregg Ridgely other than mine, in truth, nothing has changed or really been done on your part; moreover, I have realized that although Ridgely is at fault for reckless boat operation and for lying about having killed someone, in reality the Ministry of Transportation is even more to blame in several ways, for example, for not even having speed regulations for boats in Shark Bay, for neither restraining or shutting down Ridgely after the fatal accident, and for refusal to acknowledge our first-hand experience on the Aquarush which demonstrates precisely how and why Ridgely was able to kill a snorkeler and remain unaware of it, in terms of how he operates the boat.
That all of this may have happened within the confines of ‘the law’ is a testament only to the inefficacy or even absurdity of ‘the law’ when it comes to honesty, responsibility, common-sense or protecting life.
I have a few questions for you concerning some logical inconsistencies in your previous email.
1) What exactly IS a “safety management system”? If one was “in place” as you say, then why was Ridgely able not only able to kill a snorkeler but not even know he had done so until passengers on his boat informed him?
2) In what way is Transport “monitoring” the activities of Aquarush, and how do they know that a “safety management system” was in fact in place? They were not on board the Aquarush on the day of the fatal accident; are they taking Ridgely’s word for it?
3) Look at what I’ve had to go through just to file a formal complaint with you, and how long it took just to find out who the responsible authorities were. It’s been over seven months since my first complaint to Premier Barnett’s office. So, how does the fact that no other complaints have been lodged change anything? How many people could actually be bothered to follow up on something like this, especially when there are no clear guidelines as to how to do it? And isn’t ONE complaint enough, concerning a matter of life and death?
Concerning (1) above, my guess is that a “safety management system” is a combination of technological apparatus (required by the government, of course, probably very much like the “backing up” beepers on commercial vehicles…more of an annoyance than anything) and operations protocol, which sounds good on paper, and gives the impression of doing something, but in reality, means and does little or nothing, other than providing a façade of responsibility in the face of litigation. We’re talking about a boat and it’s driver…what else can there be, other than the driver’s awareness (or lack of it) of what is happening, augmented perhaps by detection gear such as sonar (or impaired, as when looking through binoculars).
Concerning (2) above, does “monitoring” imply that actual Transport personnel were dispatched to physically observe Aquarush’s activities on any given day; or does “monitoring” consist of noting whether or not any “complaints” or violations have been reported to authorities? I would guess that the latter is the case. Absence of complaints does not mean there were no violations of either “law” or respect for life. And if no Transport personnel were on board Aquarush on the day of the fatal accident, then you are in fact taking Ridgely’s word that a “safety management system” was in place. Ridgely has already demonstrated his dishonesty by lying to us on the day of our “incident”, about whether he had “hit anything or not.” Moreover, it is doubtful to me that Transport personnel have set foot on board the Aquarush, much less gone on his “eco-tour.” We, on the other hand, DID complete such a “tour.” Not only did we live to tell about it, we have first-hand observations as well as video footage of how Ridgely operates his boat. If the coronial enquiry investigating the snorkeler’s death truly seeks to conduct a “full investigation and consideration of all facts”, what is the meaning of “all facts”?
Concerning (3) above, it’s basically taken me seven months of persistence and dozens of emails to create some awareness of this on-going debacle against life in Shark Bay; as one would expect from bureaucrats, all I have received is “buck passing” and then, word documents either explaining why the bureaucratic division I was dealing with was not the right one, or later, assuring me that “everything was ok” with Ridgely and his “eco-tour” boat. Duh? Another possible reason for no other complaints (that you know of) might be that many of Ridgely’s “clients” are sufficiently lacking in intelligence to want to go crashing over the waves at insane speeds, and don’t care about their own lives, much less those of sea creatures or snorkelers. What is clear to me now is that the problem here no longer concerns only Gregg Ridgely and the Aquarush, but even moreso, the Ministry of Transportation itself. Moreover, if all this were just one isolated “incident”, my concern would not be so great; but this “incident” is only one example of perhaps thousands of such violations taking place every day around the world. Awareness and action are clearly called for. You have made it clear that Ridgely was not “breaking any laws” by speeding or operating without a “safety management system” in place. Bureaucratic “law”, however, may or may not have anything to do with “natural” law, or ethics, morals, or even common sense. WE know precisely why Ridgely was able to hit and kill a snorkeler and not even know it: we personally witnessed him operating this boat at high speed, perhaps 80 or more kilometres per hour, while ‘steering’ with his feet and looking through binoculars in a direction other than which the boat was moving. He could have hit and killed almost anything with that boat and not even know it because of the noise level and the constant shock/vibration delivered by the hull crashing against the sea at those speeds.
We witnessed him plowing through flocks of birds, many of whom only barely were able to get out of the way, again, a danger created because of excessive and unnecessary speed.
And all this was just ONE DAY that we happened to be there; as far as I can tell, there is no reason to think that any other day would be different.
That Ridgely had already hit and killed a snorkeler before we went on his boat, AND lied to us about it, was ludicrous enough; for him still to be in operation after that incident without ANY kind of restraints is even more ludicrous, since the Ministry of Transportation is responsible for administering “legislation to regulate commercial vessel operations.” He should have been temporarily shut down pending the outcome of the coronial enquiry, or at least forced to slow down. Finally, most ludicrous of all is that Ridgely did not demonstrate the self-control or restraint that common-sense would dictate and take it on HIMSELF to slow down, in the wake of having killed someone.
To me, a person of this nature should not be allowed to continue to operate motorized vessels in any way.
The Ministry of Transportation has the authority to have shut Ridgely down or forced him to slow down, at least temporarily, until the completion of the coronial enquiry. As it stands now, Ridgely has continued to operate unimpeded for well over 16 months since he killed the snorkeler.
I’ve shared this whole story with dozens of people in recent months; almost everyone is incredulous that Ridgely is still in operation, and some speculate that Ridgely is spending a lot of money to stay out of trouble. This is probably a “no-brainer”, to use a favourite expression from former Prime Minister John Howard; and if the Minister of Transportation was in any way antagonistic towards the status quo, well, he probably wouldn’t have the position of Minister of Transportation. This, too, is a “no-brainer”, and it’s all business as usual; this is in fact the problem.
The primary function of ‘government’ in today’s world is no longer actually to ‘govern’ in any real sense of the word (the word itself deriving from Greek kybernetes, “pilot or navigator, as of a ship”, also the root of “goober” and “cybernetic.”) but to function as public relations representatives for big business and the transnational corporations who are actually running the show. Western Australia is no exception.
In the wake of something like the Aquarush scenario, what the bureaucrats I contacted have done is to project images of “effective government” and to respond to my complaints with assurances that, in fact, it’s all good, regardless of what actually happened. Talk is cheap; we are talking lives here, human as well as non-human.
This might be ‘normal’ in the dominant “mental paradigm” of today. “That’s what bureaucracies are”, you might say. But common-sense might ask, “Why do we need astronomically expensive bureaucracies whose primary purpose is to convince us of their effectiveness?” Especially when the abject reality is that precisely the opposite is the case.
These are matters to be taken up by the tax-payers of Australia who are funding this continuing charade; for now, let’s stick to the issue at hand.
I recently watched a powerful documentary called Liyarn Ngarn, with music by Archie Roach, a well-known aboriginal folk-singer who is a member of the “stolen generation.” This shocking film traces the history and aftermath of “terra nullis” and the terrible racism and genocide that give Australia a dark ‘background radiation.’ One of the stories related in the film is that of Robert Walker, an aboriginal youth who was incarcerated in Fremantle, and murdered by guards there in the 1990’s. The coronial enquiry delivered a verdict of “death by misadventure”, which to me sounds dubiously Orwellian.
This ruling absolves any potentially guilty party from responsibility and actually places the ‘blame’ on the victim himself. That this level of judicial travesty exists in the legal system of western Australia is ludicrous; could this possibly be the ruling in the Aquarush accident case, thus relieving Ridgely from any responsibility whatsoever, and free to continue his potentially lethal joyriding unimpeded by any form of accountability? I do know that under American law, an accident of this nature would be classified as “involuntary manslaughter”, and carries a mandatory jail sentence.
Speculation aside, the salient facts are that Ridgely hit and killed a snorkeler; we took his “eco-tour” months later, and felt that because of unremitting excessive speed, not only our own lives were at risk, but also the lives of marine life in those waters; told Ridgely that he should not be allowed to operate there; asked him if he’d ever “hit anything”, and listened to him say “Not that I know of”; began a series of complaints to the ‘government’ of western Australia, which has finally resulted in the latest response from Min. O’Brien telling us that, in essence, everything is ok with Ridgely and that there have been no more complaints. Sorry, mates…I don’t buy it.
My argument is that our experience on the Aquarush proves that Ridgely operates in such blatant violation of any kind of respect for life, whether it’s that of his passengers, local sea-life, or his own, that he should NOT be in operation of a motorized vessel.
Our experience has provided first-hand evidence of extreme violation of common-sense safe behaviour protocols; the bureaucratic authority under whose jurisdiction this has taken place, the Ministry of Transportation, has not seen fit to take any measures whatsoever with respect to restraining Ridgely, not even temporary ones, neither after the snorkeler’s death nor after our complaint. What’s it going to be next time…a whole family of snorkelers? A pod of dozing dolphins? Or an entire Aquarush full of passengers when it flips going 100 kmh after colliding with a whale?
We therefore conclude that the Ministry of Transportation is not only negligent but derelict in its duty of “marine safety” oversight and has no interest in the light that our experience sheds on the situation; we now terminate dealings with this level of bureaucracy, and will proceed to the next level not only of seeking remedial action against Ridgely specifically, but to elucidate jurisdictional dysfunction at the state level, as well as to facilitate new legislative action at the federal parliamentary level to implement ‘speed limits’ for all boating activity, private, commercial and military, in marine-life sensitive areas all around Australia.
The issue of the protection of human as well as non-human life in and around ecologically sensitive areas involves not only the Ministry of Transportation, but also the Ministries of Tourism and of the Environment. The Aquarush issue bears directly on the alleged ‘purpose’ of each of these Ministries, notwithstanding their “public relations” function.
And speaking of “public relations”, with Australia’s apparent zeal to attract overseas tourists, this Aquarush issue is almost as conducive to tourism in western Australia as the block-bomber film Australia, which was little more than a travel advert thinly disguised as entertainment. Word-of-mouth reports based on first-hand experience carry far more weight in international travel circles than multi-million dollar propaganda projects!
I would like to note that Curt and Micheline Jenner of the Centre for Whale Research based in Fremantle state in their documentary Whalesong that the greatest threat to the health and safety of whales migrating through western Australian waters is not shipping or seismic testing (or oil drilling, in lieu of spills or well accidents) but, in fact, whale-watching conducted from motorized vessels, of which the Aquarush is one example. Whale-watching is a $300 million per year business in Australia.
I should note that on the day of our Aquarush adventure, someone spotted a “blow” from a whale in the distance. Ridgely immediately gunned the motors and headed in that direction. No whale was ever to be seen, of course; who would want to wait around to be blasted by 450 horses of noise?
This is further evidence contributing to the necessity of new legislation introducing speed-limits for motorized vessels, as well as regulations limiting proximity to/encroachment on sea-life, not to mention the possible banning of motorized whale-watching. And an even larger ‘big picture’ looms on the horizon: the global problem of a civilization based on fossil-fuel gluttony.
I further note that ngo’s, especially small independent/non-corporate groups, often working with equally independent/non–corporate barristers, are making progress in many countries towards enacting legislation/influencing public decision-making and policy guidelines towards actual (as opposed to virtual) protection of life-forms in nature, and the natural environment as a whole.
I cite the specific example of what is happening right now in New Zealand, where many grass-roots organizations and individuals around the country are joining forces with environmental barristers to combat the Department of Conservation and its on-going program of ecocide deploying tons per year of a ‘super-toxin’ called 1080, or sodium monofluoroacetate. 1080 is banned in almost every country in the world because of its extreme danger to human life. Activists and an increasingly educated and responsible public in New Zealand are making headway in “stopping the drop” (a lot of 1080 is deployed from helicopters) at the local or regional level. Several major shires have banned 1080 locally, including those of Kaikoura, Taupo and I believe Hamilton; Great Barrier Island has never allowed it to be used from the beginning. Incidentally, 1080 is used by Gunns Timber Corporation in Tasmania, where they are conducting massive clear-felling of Gondwanaland-remnant old-growth forests, burning off the debris with napalm derivatives, planting genetically-engineered eucalyptus plantations which poison the soil, then deploying the 1080 to kill any of the wildlife attempting to relocate back to where their homes used to be.
With recent global attention being drawn to whales and whaling (for example, Capt. Paul Watson/Sea Shepherd on Animal Planet, Louie Psihoyos’ film The Cove documenting atrocities to dolphins, and Philippe Cousteau’s upcoming 3-D film on whales), the cetaceans are a hot topic in the public mind, and what is going on with the Aquarush and its larger implications (marine safety, marine noise pollution, motorized whale-watching, maritime speed limits, wasting fossil-fuels, bureaucratic inefficacy) could be a precursor to a similar wave of activism across Australia, as people simultaneously begin to realize “who” the whales are as fellow sentient beings, as well as the extent of the full spectrum of threats to their health and safety from irresponsible human activity.
This is a moment of opportunity for the government of western Australia to “seize the day” and take decisive positive action in a problem area coming into view on the horizon; by restraining Ridgely, and thus setting an example to other boat operators, by voluntarily imposing effective speed limits on ALL motorized vessels in marine-life sensitive waters (including military craft), and by banning motorized whale-watching, the government of western Australia would be a step ahead, demonstrate self-determination, and could generate massive positive “public relations” for itself and its tourism industry around the world. Shark Bay is a stunningly beautiful place; why allow it to be marred by unnecessary recklessness? Is simply SLOWING DOWN so hard to do?
Right now, the government of western Australia is showing little more than its negligence and dereliction of duty towards “marine safety” as well as its indifference to first-hand observations of reckless and irresponsible boating activity which has already resulted in loss of human life. By acting now, they could show initiative and responsibility, instead of being persuaded or forced at a later date to do these things under pressure from concerned citizens, ngo’s and environmental barristers, or even a world environmental court, much as the Japanese government and whalers are currently under global pressure to stop their murderous practices.
The implementation of such regulations protecting human and non-human life in shallow coastal waters would be of immensely greater significance and practical value than Peter Garrett’s SORP program, which pretends to “debunk” Japan’s “scientific whaling” tactics with its own “non-lethal research” methods, but in reality is little more than political posturing, “public relations” maneuvering, and an attempt to cash in on the global popularity of whales.
If you were a whale, which would YOU prefer: MORE “scientists” in noisy fuel-leaking motorized boats following you around your breeding-grounds and migratory routes, photographing you, recording your conversations (and selling these recordings WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION!) and even shooting darts into you to retrieve DNA samples…or the reduction or elimination of meat-grinding propellers, skull-splitting noise from boat motors, and harassment by motorized whale-watching tours…while remaining approachable and amicable to nice people who visit in peace on quiet and truly ecological sail boats?
In conclusion, I suggest that you think of me as a “lobbyist for nature”, or more specifically, for the cetaceans, the most acoustically sensitive, socially evolved, and, indeed, “intelligent” life-forms on this planet. I am not offering you expense-paid holidays or offshore investment perks, in the manner of typical parliamentary lobbyists; what I offer is a chance for you to “hear” the voices of our fellow beings, of the Earth herself, who are crying out for us to stop our “unconscious jihad” against nature.
A clear conscience and good karma come to those who actively seek to protect life; the dominant mental paradigm of today, “business as usual”, not only fails to consider the implications of its decision-making, it’s actions…or inactions…seven generations from now, or even next year, but actively pursues a path of the over-valuation of money at the expense of life as we know her.
There’s a well-know Australian expression, “She’ll be roite, miy(t)e.” Sorry, bros…she AIN’T gonna be “roite” until a LOT of things change. Whether we as humans are the agents of these changes, or its victims, is up to us, based on our every action beginning now.
May the spirit of life and the beauty of nature inspire us all to our highest spiritual paths here on Spaceship Earth.
6 May 2010
RECOMMENDED READING: The State is Out of Date, Gregory Sams, available for free down-load at www.chaos-works.com
FINAL LETTER FROM SIMON O'BRIEN, MIN. TRANSPORTATION WA
Minister for Transport; Disability Services
Hon. Simon O'Brien MLC Our
Mr Jeff Phillips
Dear Mr Phillips Thank you for your email dated 13 March 2010 to the Minister for Transport, the Hon Simon O'Brien MLC, regarding Aqua Rush. The Minister has asked me to respond on his behalf.
In the letter that you initially sent to the Minister for Tourism, the Hon Dr Elizabeth Constable MLA, you raised concerns regarding the operation of the vessel 'Aqua Rush' based upon your personal experience on a tour with that operator. Your letter was forwarded to the Minister for Transport as the Department of Transport administer legislation to regulate commercial vessel operations.
In your email you refer to two separate events, namely your personal experience while on a tour of Shark Bay with a company operating the business 'Aqua Rush', and also the fatal snorkelling accident at Shark Bay. Due to your experience with the tour that Aqua Rush provides, your concerns were noted and Transport staff confirmed that the operator had a safety management system in place. Transport is continuing to monitor the activities of Aqua Rush and no further complaints or incidents have been reported.
In relation to the fatality that occurred in Shark Bay during the summer of 2008/09, I have been advised that the State Coroner has confirmed that an inquest will be held into this matter, which involves a full investigation and consideration of all facts.
Pursuant to the Coroners Act 1996 and Coroners Regulations 1997, it is only after the completion of an inquest into a death that the record of the investigation may be made public, depending on the Coroner's orders. Accordingly, until the full facts of the incident are revealed in the inquest, I am unable to make any public comments on the matter.
Thank you again for raising your concerns and for your interest in marine safety.
Yours sincerely 13th oor, Dumas House, 2 Havelock Street, West Perth Western Australia 6005 hon· 1892136400 Facsimile: +61892136401 Email: Minister.Obrien@dpc.wa.gov.au