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Wellington crane death comes amid wider safety concerns on the waterfront

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The trust that owns the crane in Wellington’s harbour from which two people have jumped off and died in recent years is at a loss for what more can be done to stop people climbing it.

A body was recovered from the water yesterday afternoon after a person jumped from the Hikitia Floating Crane and failed to surface from the water. Police inquiries into the circumstances of the incident are ongoing.

This latest death comes amid wider safety concerns on the capital’s waterfront after 25-year-old primary school teacher Isaac Levings became separated from his friends after a concert, got lost and accidentally drowned in the harbour last year.

In 2021, the body of 30-year-old Sandy Calkin was found in the water near Queens Wharf. He was last seen by friends on Courtenay Place about 1am, and CCTV footage showed him walking north on the wharf near Shed 6 a short time later.

A Coroner’s inquest into Calkin’s death is scheduled for August this year.

Wellington City Council’s work to install safety measures along sections of the waterfront is ongoing and includes balustrades, second-chance barriers, and improved lighting.

Maritime Heritage Trust of Wellington owns the 97-year-old floating crane involved in yesterday’s tragic incident.

Trustee Malcolm McGregor said it was still functioning and could prove useful in the event of a natural disaster like an earthquake.

McGregor said the ship could be awkward to get on and off, a gangway was left on the deck of the ship when not in use, and there were various signs telling people to keep away.

CCTV cameras have also been installed in recent months for security after problems with general mischief and graffiti.

Primary school teacher Isaac Levings became separated from his friends after a concert and accidentally drowned in the harbour last year.
Primary school teacher Isaac Levings became separated from his friends after a concert and accidentally drowned in the harbour last year.

McGregor said the camera footage, which he will give to police, shows one man climbing onto the crane yesterday.

The trust and Wellington City Council conducted an extensive review of health and safety around the site in 2015 when a 20-year-old man died jumping from it after a night out.

Various options were considered including mooring the ship away from the wharf so people wouldn’t be able to gain access to it as easily.

Police search the Wellington Harbour where a person failed to surface after jumping from a crane yesterday. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Police search the Wellington Harbour where a person failed to surface after jumping from a crane yesterday. Photo / Mark Mitchell

“That was technically possible but we decided in the end that it’s not going to stop a determined person who wants to climb up the top,” McGregor said.

“It’s like Everest, it’s a drawcard.”

This morning McGregor considered what effect a siren would have to deter people.

“But again if someone is determined, a fit man can climb up the top in seven or eight minutes and by the time somebody turns up from police or local security to attend, the person’s up there and has launched off.”

Police inquiries into the circumstances of yesterday's incident involving the floating crane are ongoing. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Police inquiries into the circumstances of yesterday’s incident involving the floating crane are ongoing. Photo / Mark Mitchell

McGregor extended his sympathy to the family of the person who died.

“It’s so awful to lose a family member who is not coming home.”

Harbourmaster Grant Nalder said the measures already in place only went so far to deter people but it was difficult to know what else could be done.

“It’s very hard, without putting a big fence around it and people will still find a way to get around that I’m sure.

“It’s a tragic accident. There were warning signs not to do it … it’s a very unfortunate result.”

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the council has had ongoing discussions with the Harbourmaster about ways to prevent people from accessing the vessel.

“We will cooperate with the police and the Coroner over this latest tragedy. Our work to install safety measures along sections of the waterfront is ongoing – this includes balustrades and second-chance barriers and improved lighting.”

Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.



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