All three tour operators operating within the passage are now working with the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation and the Cook Islands Water Safety Council to come up with minimum safety standards for all to abide by. The Cook Islands Police Service and other government departments are also involved.
Water Safety president Brent Fisher said the progress they’ve made is “a really good thing, obviously”.
“We’re now working towards a minimum safety requirement for the lagoon, for all the lagoon operators, and our aim is to actually have it as part of legislation – not just guidelines, it’ll be legislation,” said Fisher.
“So if there’s things that happen that shouldn’t happen – you know, the police could charge them with neglect or endangerment or operating dangerously or something like that, because it would actually be in the legislation, it would be legislated against.”
While Fisher said the Water Safety Council had been working on getting government departments together to formulate water-safety legislation for some time, he was of the view that now things might really get moving.
“Now we’re talking to the industry big-time,” he said. “I think Tourism’s met with them all, and I’ve spoken to them all, and they’ve all got the attitude of wanting to put something together so it’s all safe.
With everyone onboard and working together, Fisher said other problematic issues regarding perceptions of water safety in the Avaavaroa passage could also be overcome as well.
“When they’re competing against each other, you’d get that problem where they’d knock each other down – you know, everyone else is dangerous and blablabla. Rather than coming together and saying, ‘OK, this is what we would like to see’.
“So as an objective water-safety body we can sit down and say ‘OK, this is what we would like as well’, and then just have a look at what they’ve got and put it all together.”
As well as legislation, Fisher also hopes to organise a water-safety course specific to those tourism businesses operating in the lagoon.
He said such a course would also include instruction on CPR and rescue techniques, as well as basic minimum water safety standards.