HEAVY WEATHER: Jetboat surf rescue captain Garry Meredith (at rear) with Joe O?Connor (left), mechanic Ross Trease, and Shane O
HEAVY WEATHER: Jetboat surf rescue captain Garry Meredith (at rear) with Joe O?Connor (left), mechanic Ross Trease, and Shane O

Rescue boat?s turn to send off an SOS

By DAWN COHEN

WHAT price would you put on 40 Ballina lives?

After pulling 40 people from the water in 29 rescues over the last year, the Ballina Jetboat Surf Rescue boat needs saving itself.

Mechanic Ross Trease believes the vessel needs to be retired after an oil leak has put it out of action for two weeks.

A $3000 emergency will resuscitate it this time, but a $150,000 replacement is expensive.

"The leak has slowly been getting worse," said the Ballina Jetboat Surf Rescue president, Patrick O'Connor.

"You can't keep pushing a twoand-a-half tonne boat into and over waves in a hurry without something giving way."

Vessel captain Garry Meredith said costs to repair the 17-year-old boat could have been worse.

"Next time it could be $30,000," he said.

"We aren't expecting the community to individually donate the $150,000.

"We would like ideas for how we can get it."

The organisation believes the State or Federal government should provide a grant.

"We are not approaching Ballina Shire Council because we support more money being paid for lifeguard patrols," Mr O'Connor said.

The vessel has been busier in the past 12 months than ever before in its 32-year history, with call-outs doubling since the previous year.

The reasons for the increase are unclear.

The volunteer organisation was the first to reach the Goonellabah youth, Matthew Hicks, who drowned at Shelly Beach in October last year.

"Four people sadly lost their lives in the water over the last year," said Mr O'Connor.

"But there were also those 40 people who survived. On two occasions we helped boats in trouble at the bar, each with five people.

"All were okay.

"That's why we keep doing it."

n What do you think?

Phone the Star Feedback line on 6624 3266 or email opinions@north- ernstar.com.au



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