Sunday Supplement (Editorial)
Our detailed look back on the stories that we have been talking about in Moray…..
Lossiemouth’s tag as the ‘Jewel of the Moray Firth’ is well deserved as evidenced by the thousands of visitors each year who marvel at the contrasting but equally beautiful east and west beaches.
However, few can deny that the town has fallen well short in cashing in on these stunning natural assets with tourist facilities still sadly lacking.
Day trippers flock to Lossie on fine sunny days, but overall visitor numbers have been poor, perhaps because of the lack of facilities for visitors – or perhaps the lack of facilities are a result of lower visitor numbers?
For a very long time some residents have pondered over what could be done to address the situation – and the near loss of the RAF base a few years ago helped to focus minds on the plight of the town if the military was indeed to leave.
Thankfully things are beginning to happen.
At the behest of a community council whose membership for the first time were actually elected by the people of Lossiemouth, many individual community groups are coming together with the view of forming a single, cohesive voice aimed at improving facilities for residents and visitors alike – or putting the ‘polish’ back onto the jewel.
That is why one major story reported on insideMoray this week has taken on much more importance and focus than it has perhaps enjoyed in the past.
In letters and calls to community councillors, police and local media outlets, a number of complaints were made over the activities of a single jet skier who was seen as a danger to other beach and river users.
Witnesses reported that the young rider took his vehicle up the river at speed some way beyond the Seatown bridge, scattering wildlife in his path and causing concern for swimmers both on the main beach and along the river bank.
When the story appeared on insideMoray it caused a great deal of debate – largely condemnation of the jet skier but some in defence, most notably from members of a group of jet skiers who have shared the east beach and river for some years.
The overall behaviour of any beach user whose activities are seen to endanger others or pose a threat to local wildlife has to be a matter of concern.
Community Councillors have in the past been asked to act – but, of course, there is little in law that they can actually do as there are no specific national or local laws that deal with jet skis in the same way as other sea or river boats.
It is a matter of concern for communities much farther afield than Lossiemouth – incidents in Southend caused a new by-law to be introduced by the Port of London Authority to introduce fines of up to £1000 against jet skiers who exceeded a speed of 8knots.
In Sunderland incidents involving jet skis on the mouth of the Weir led to harbour officials calling for new by-laws to be introduced.
Consideration has been given by some Members of Parliament on the introduction of national laws governing Jet Skis, which currently do not require to be registered as they are not considered to be boats, and of course because they do not travel on roads are not subject to the same laws as motor bikes.
A study was submitted to the House of Commons Library looking into the situation in the wake of in incident in 2004 when two Jet Skis collided in Weymouth Bay, causing serious injury. In the subsequent legal case it was argued that because the Jet Ski deemed to have caused the incident was not a ‘ship’ for the purposes of the Merchant Shipping Act, the case against the rider, Mark Goodwin, should be dismissed.
However, the crown court ruling was that it was a ‘ship’ in the meaning of the act – and so Mr Goodwin changed his plea to guilty. An appeal in 2005 concluded, however, that the Jet Ski was not a ‘ship’ within the meaning of S58 of the Merchant Shipping Act.
Following that case the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said: “It is the MCA’s view that the Appeal Court ruling does not give a blanket exemption for leisure vessels from regulations such as the Collision Regulations.
“There may be specific circumstances where regulations do not apply, however it is regarded as best practice for all craft to observe the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea at all times.”
The House of Commons paper outlines that case and subsequent consultations on if there should be changes to existing legislation or new legislation introduced.
However, those consultations closed in September 2009 with no further action taken.
Impact on Lossiemouth
So there are no national laws that stop any individual purchasing a Jet Ski and taking to the water in Lossiemouth or anywhere else in Moray. They do not need prior training on their vehicles, they do not need to be registered and their owners/riders need not take out any particular insurance against injury to themselves or others.
The Jet Ski community are responsible people as evidenced when the issue was of some concern over a year ago. Representatives from local Jet Skiers attended a community council meeting and after discussion set up their own code of conduct.
Sadly as long as that code of conduct is voluntary, incidents such as that reported on June 1 in Lossiemouth can and will happen.
In the aftermath of the insideMoray report on the incident, one local jet skier commented on social media that the person responsible “had been told” and that would be an end to the matter. It was also suggested that if the community council were to discuss the matter he would be present “to put them right”.
As a serving community councillor I have to say it will take a great deal more to “put me right” than any assurances over a voluntary code of conduct.
If Lossiemouth is to become the tourism centre it deserves to be then no individual or group should believe that they have the power to do as they please, in particular where the safety and comfort of other beach users is concerned.
That is why I personally agree with the complainant who insists that it is time a specific by-law was introduced governing the use of powered vehicles such as Jet Skis on waters around Lossiemouth and other Moray harbours, beaches and rivers.