A complaint was made to Cook Islands Tourism about an incident concerning a group of tourists who were alleged to have been washed out of the passage and needed to be rescued.
The incident is reported to have happened with tour operator Tuhe Piho, proprietor of The Turtleman Tours.
Piho yesterday took issue with the report “Turtle tourist party ‘rescued’” in yesterday’s paper, disputing the claims made against him and his tour.
He said he strongly denied there was any rescue and the story was inaccurate, and he would be taking legal action to sue the newspaper for defamation.
His daughter Charlotte Piho also objected to being named in the report that quoted tourism destination development manager Metua Vaiimene as saying that both Tuhe and Charlotte both “truly have a sense of responsibility about safety.”
“It’s just lies,” Charlotte said. “It just never happened.”
However, police spokesman, Trevor Pitt, confirmed there have been complaints about the safety of the turtle tours run by Piho and the only previous concerns he was aware of
were raised last year.
“Police had a sit down meeting with Tuhe and the Tourism CEO and representatives. At that time all the concerns about safety were discussed, including a number of complaints received about rescues and risks posed by Tuhe's operation.”
Pitt said: “Measures discussed included a requirement for adequate oversight of the activities around Avaavaroa. All operators had to adhere to a ratio of one trained supervisor for every four participants. In addition, all water equipment used needed to be modern and in safe working condition, with accessibility to first aid treatment, such as defibrillators.”
He added: “Police raised a concern that operators could be subject to prosecution if they put people's lives at risk due to failures to institute proper safety oversight.”
Vaiimene said the recent incident with regard to the turtle tours in the Avaavaroa passage was the fourth one that they have reported to police.
“We have passed that information on but we do not have any details. We don’t know who the people were, and what tour they went on. But as we understand it was the Turtleman Tours.”
He also said members of the public were concerned and rightly so about safety in the passage