The Brisbane party cruise operator from whose boat missing Irishman Shane O’Halloran fell at the weekend has called for increased scrutiny of safety standards in the industry.
Brisbane Cruises official Jim Kelly said yesterday he believed safety standards were not to blame for Mr O’Halloran falling overboard.
However, he said he was not a fan of Maritime Safety Queensland’s current self-regulatory system.
“MSQ used to do annual inspections on every vessel but for the last 10 years they put it up to a self-regulatory system,” Mr Kelly said.
“I would like to see a return to regular checks.
“What happened [to Mr O’Halloran] was not down to MSQ or the regulations, I want to make that very clear. It happened because customers on the boat didn’t follow the rules. They were told not to do things and they did them anyway.
“We work very closely with MSQ and the boat has always complied with the regulations.”
However an MSQ spokesman said the industry regulator frequently conducted on-the-spot compliance checks and “has previously shut down commercial vessels”.
The search continued yesterday for Mr O’Halloran, who fell off the company’s vessel Lady Brisbane in the middle of a romantic encounter with a woman on Saturday night.
Mr O’Halloran and the 26-year-old woman, identified in the Irish media as Sinead O’Neill, had been perched precariously on a high ledge on the boat moments before the pair fell overboard into the river.
She was pulled to safety but Mr O’Halloran never resurfaced.
More than 700 celebrations take place each year on board licensed vessels cruising the Brisbane River.
The city’s most iconic pleasure boat, The Island, is among 10 licensed commercial vessels that operate on the Brisbane River including the Lady Brisbane and paddlewheelers Kookaburra River Queens I and II, which cruise the river each weekend.
The party cruises are subject to standard liquor licensing regulations, although party co-ordinators have denied they turn a blind eye to risky, drunken behaviour.
Mr Kelly said his crew has resorted to reading the riot act to party-goers before each cruise in an attempt to curb unruly behaviour.
“If it’s not clear what the rules are people will abuse the situation,” he said.
“We’re the same as any other venue for young people. We follow liquor licensing laws very carefully and we value our license and business.
“Of course it can be more dangerous on a boat, so we are particularly careful.”
He said all Brisbane Cruises were limited to three hours and generally started at 7pm to avoid late-night mishaps.
There were 118 party-goers on board the Lady Brisbane when Mr O’Halloran vanished last Saturday as well as seven crew members, who are required to conduct regular “deck checks” to ensure guests do not engage in risky behaviour.
“We get the party organiser to come and speak to us every half an hour to do a report. We get the crew and supervisors to check with the skipper every half an hour and report in on behaviour,” Mr Kelly said.
Party cruise co-ordinator Natalie King of Go Troppo Showboats said the onus of safety on board party boats was the responsibility of the vessel’s owner and skipper, although she said her staff cut people off at the bar when their behaviour became too risky.
“We often look like the party Nazis,” she said.
“We never operate with less than two supervisors on each level of the boat.”