Reminder that flares aren’t fireworks

26 July 2007

The irresponsible use of distress flares has cost a Nelson boatie more than $11,000 in reparation.

Craig Callaghan was on his boat celebrating New Year’s Eve at Anchorage, in Torrent Bay, north of Motueka, on 31 December 2005, when he and a number of other boaties set off distress flares to mark the New Year. One of the flares set off by the boaties flew into nearby bush, sparking a blaze which cost the Waimea Rural Fire Authority more than $11,000 to put out. A nearby campground also had to be evacuated.

Mr Callaghan was prosecuted by Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) on charges of causing “unnecessary danger or risk” to both people and property through misuse of the flares.  

However, the charges have been withdrawn after he paid $11,500 to the authority.

“This is a timely reminder that distress flares are not fireworks, and proof that irresponsible actions like this can cause serious damage” MNZ Deputy Director Bruce Maroc said. “Because flares are designed to burn at a very high temperature, they also have the potential to cause serious injury or worse if they’re not used properly.”

Mr Maroc said that because search and rescue agencies were obliged to act upon flare sightings, pranks and hoaxes wasted valuable time and resources which could put the lives of people who were in genuine distress at risk.

“While Mr Callaghan has acted responsibly in reimbursing authorities for most of the damage caused, it’s very disappointing that there were a number of other boaties who have also admitted setting off prank distress flares on New Year’s Eve. This irresponsible behaviour is not only dangerous for any people and property nearby, but also wastes valuable time and resources which could be needed to save someone who is genuinely in trouble,” Mr Maroc said.

Anyone who causes a fire by improper use of a flare risks being held liable for all related costs, and could face charges under the Maritime Transport Act and Forest and Rural Fires Act.

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