Aitutaki still reeling from water tragedy

Monday 17 September 2018 | Published in Outer Islands


Aitutaki still reeling from water tragedy
No life jackets: Visitors pictured paddling near the reef off Blackrock last Friday morning. 18091431

Calls for water safety training and better visitor education have been echoed by the Aitutaki community, amid sad reflections on the family tragedy that has hit their island recently.

Cook Islands Tourism’s director of destination development Metua Vaiimene said the community in Aitutaki and especially the tourism industry members were still reeling from the tragic drowning of a visitor on the island last month.

Following a stakeholders’ meeting on the island last week, Vaiimene said they wanted to do their part to help the island’s people to recover and move forward.

Twenty-five representatives of the tourism industry, community and government agencies on Aitutaki attended the meeting on Monday to discuss improving the water safety culture on the island, and ways to better educate visitors of the risks and dangers in the Aitutaki lagoon.

Following the recent tragedy in Aitutaki, the issue has become even more pressing for the community there, Vaiimene said.

He said the Cook Islands Tourism had again called upon stakeholders to improve water safety guidelines and practices.

Stakeholders who play key roles in achieving this were invited to meetings in Rarotonga and Aitutaki held on September 5 and 10, respectively.

“Concerned members of the public including representatives from community organisations, government agencies and the tourism industry have fronted up with ideas and suggestions to improving the water safety message,” Vaiimene said.

“For the people of Aitutaki involved in the rescue of a young visitor, and with the recovery of the drowning victim, there is trauma counselling needed. Red Cross have done some, but more is needed.

“The tragedy is still raw for the community and social services and support are being sought.”

Trauma counselling is one type of training and awareness being sought by the community following discussions at the water safety meeting.

Along with basic first aid training, rescue and life-saving skills, and boat masters’ training, trauma counselling services and training will be sought from partners such as Red Cross, Ministry of Transport and Cook Islands Water Safety and the Surf Lifesaving Council.

Vaiimene said the Cook Islands Tourism would support their partners to ensure the range of training and awareness requested by the community was delivered in the next few months.

“Educating our visitors - as many of them as possible, is a key role that Cook Islands Tourism will take the lead on following these meetings.

“The next steps will involve designing and printing information flyers and posters specific for Aitutaki, and similar to the ones produced already for Rarotonga.

“These can then be used by the industry in accommodation properties, and by activities operators, but can also be placed in public areas, or specific areas of concern as public messages. Advertising will also be sought through tourist magazines.”

More support would be sought from the private sector for these initiatives, Vaiimene added.

“Cook Islands Tourism reiterates the basic safety message it has been teaching since 2015 which is that a life jacket is a must for water based activities.”

Vaiimene further explained that “in the absence of laws and regulations this basic safety message will help capture the vast majority of risky situations presented by visitors who lack local knowledge. It will also help to create basic safety awareness for all activities, and while prompting greater attention to any riskier activities”.

If you would like to get involved in water safety and rescue training, contact Pua Arthur from Red Cross: or Brent Fisher

Cook Islands Tourism thanks Air Rarotonga who supported the meeting in Aitutaki by flying presenters Brent Fisher from the Water Safety and Surf Lifesaving Council and Vaiimene from Cook Islands Tourism, to attend the meeting.

- Release