CLOSE ENCOUNTER: Sea Shepherd divers clash with shark net contractors.
CLOSE ENCOUNTER: Sea Shepherd divers clash with shark net contractors.

Contractors and divers clash over shark nets

AFTER the video of a potentially dangerous close encounter between activist scuba divers and a shark net contractor vessel was made public, government authorities have launched an investigation.

The NSW Roads and Maritime Services have announced they are in the early stages of investigating an incident involving a shark net contractor on the NSW far north coast after a vessel incident report was referred from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

"Video and other supporting evidence has been received and formal interviews are being organised," a RMS spokesman said..

"It would be inappropriate to comment further on the investigation at this stage. Under marine safety legislation, skippers must always remain a safe distance from fixed objects and other vessels and stay well clear of divers."

On May 1, divers from the Sea Shepherd boat Grey Nurse, were in the water filming and became concerned when shark net contractor vessel Wahoo they allege came in too close for comfort.

Grey Nurse skipper Jonathan Clark 51, said he was very concerned about the safety of his crew as when boats fly the Alpha Flag indicating divers, other vessels need to maintain a distance of 60m and restrict speed to 10 knots (18.5km).

"As a skipper I do everything I can to look after them, we are there to observe and record only," he said.

"In that incident the other day, when the boat Wahoo came down towards us I had no idea what they were doing told my guys to go (dive) down. We both carry radios on board and if he had called us from one kilometre out and said we are coming in can you pull your divers out, then I would have but he didn't."

Mr Clark said earlier the same day he had spoken with a fisheries officer when they were moored at Sharpe's Beach who was very professional.

"He said he had no trouble with us filing as long as were not touching or interfering with the nets," he said.

"He and indicated to me understood the reasons we were there but said he was concerned about our safety."

"Subsequently we went up north to Lennox Beach where the incident occurred and after this I understand the same fisheries officer went and spoke to the Wahoo crew."

Mr Clark said he made a formal complaint to RMS and then after receiving a call from the department's boating safety officer, passed on a copy of the video.

While Mr Clark said he understood the net contractors had a job to do, he and his crew were acting within the law.

"We checked the legislation and are well aware there is no exclusion zone set up," he said.

"We were not interfering of the work the contractor is doing, I am cognisant of that the contractor has a job to do checking the nets twice a day and we are there to document and bring this to the attention of the public what is in the nets because numbers in a report are one thing but pictures of biocatch are another."

Mr Clark said he understood contractors were under pressure.

"Part of the contractors job is take data from the net and this is released by DPI once a month, I get they are feeling watched by us and I acknowledge there's pressure and I don't back back away from this," he said. It is an offence to interfere with or vandalise the nets and it carries a maximum penalty of $22,000.


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