Torres Strait rangers get cracking on new fleet

Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin prepares to crack a coconut over the bow of the Urpi Urui, launched on Badu Island in the Torres Strait.

The local Islander name for a small bird seen as a symbol of impending good weather has been chosen as the name of the first vessel in a planned fleet of seven ranger boats to be deployed across the Torres Strait.

The Urpi Urui was officially launched on Badu on Wednesday, August 8 by Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin.

The vessel is the first of the fleet soon to be launched across the islands of Badu, Mabuiag, Moa, Boigu, Mer, Iama and Masig. In doing the honours, Ms Macklin was lent a hand to crack the coconut and officially launch the vessel by Mura Badhulgau Rangers supervisor Troy Stow, as Badu traditional owner Maluwap Nona and rangers from the Torres Strait Regional Authority Land and Sea Unit looked on.

Ms Macklin was accompanied on her visit to Badu by Queensland senator Jan McLucas.

The boat will be housed in a customised shed in the Badu area of Kaumug, a facility made possible through the assistance and cooperation of Badu’s Registered Native Title Prescribed Body Corporate and its chairman, Peo Ahmat.

Mr Ahmat was instrumental in setting up the ranger program, along with other leaders including the late Jack Ahmat, former councillor Richard Bowie, and traditional owner Horace Nona, who was one of the first rangers on Badu.

Mr Nona said those leaders knew they needed strong foundations to build the capacity of the rangers.

“One of our future aspirations was for us to control our own livelihoods,” Mr Nona said.

“Uncle Koiki Mabo made a great difference in our lives, but from there we had to take it further. We were always talking about funding being allocated to the Torres Strait in the form of us looking after our own area.”

In her speech to rangers, elders, council and commuity representatives, Ms Macklin said the launch of the boat was a celebration of the long seafaring legacy of the Torres Strait.

“It’s one of seven patrol boats that will enable rangers to work in a safe environment with the latest technologies, managing resources across the Mura Badhulgau sea country,” Ms Macklin said.

In an indication that lessons had been learned from the Malu Sara tragedy of 2006, the minister placed a great deal of emphasis on the safety standards of the Urpi Urui.

Safety at sea was the highest priority for the patrol boat and for the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) rangers based on Badu, she said.

“The boat has been built to meet the highest marine survey standards in Australia,” Ms Macklin said.

The Queensland senator commended the TSRA for its determination in ensuring the safety standards of the boats.

“Today’s blessing is a very significant milestone for the Torres Strait Land and Sea Ranger Program, and for the communities it supports,” Ms McLucas said.

“These rangers working on land and sea are strengthening their cultural and traditional ties to their land and sea country.

“At the same time, they are being upskilled and trained in things as divers as helicopter safety escape, mangrove surveys and leadership skills.”

TSRA chairperson Toshie Kris said the commissioning of the six-metre boats represented a big step forward in the effective management of land and sea resources in the Torres Strait.

“Without boats, the rangers have been restricted in the range and scope of activities they can carry out, but that is about to change in the coming months,” Mr Kris said.

“Our rangers will now be able to effectively conduct reef and seagrass monitoring as well as routine surveys of turtle and dugong feeding and breeding sites.”

He said the TSRA had engaged an independent surveyor to ensure the highest safety standards were maintained throughout the project.

“We then gave the masters and crews an opportunity to provide feedback on all aspects of the boats during sea trials and we have made some very minor modifications,” he said.

Mr Kris pointed out that the standard of safety equipment on the boats was well in excess of standard requirements.

“The boats have all been equipped with satellite telephones, HF and VHF radios,” he said.

Each crew member will be required to carry a personal EPIRB, in addition to the one on the boat, while an automatic identification system will also allow the position and movement of ranger boats and other nearby shipping to be monitored in real time by Land and Sea Management Unit staff based on Thursday Island.

“This system is normally only required on commercial vessels over 30 metres long in Australian waters and demonstrates the extent of our total commitment to crew and boat safety,” he said.

The boats will benefit all 15 inhabited islands in the Torres Strait Mr Kris said, adding that the remaining vessels in the Land and Sea Ranger fleet will be rolled out to another six island communities throughout 2012-13.

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