Vandalism may not be cause of communication issues: UPDATED

UPDATE: 5.30pm Thursday

Coast Guard Victoria says it may not have been vandalism that has caused recent problems with one of Marine Rescue Eden’s communication channels, and that it will still be a few weeks before it is back on the air.

Possible vandalism to the solar panels of channel 81’s Mount Imlay repeater was noted around two years ago, but had no bearing on its operational capacity at the time.

Coast Guard Victoria owns the repeater, and its business operations manager Richard Burgess says the current problems may be down to the ageing of equipment and the current weather conditions.

Mr Burgess said the solar panels, which power up a channel mainly used to maintain contact with boats heading south out of Twofold Bay, will be replaced as soon as possible.

“I wouldn’t speculate that vandalism is the cause of it,” Mr Burgess said.

“It may simply be a case of reduced capacity with the ageing of the equipment, and the fact that there is less direct sunlight shining on the panels at this time of the year.

“The reason for the delay [in getting it up and running again] is because we need to get all the necessary equipment and get up to what is a very remote location.

“We know that we need to replace the solar panels, and at this stage, I’d say we are still a few weeks away.”

Mr Burgess said the crew conducting repairs will access the top of Mount Imlay by helicopter when the time comes.

Coast Guard Victoria is working with Telstra and the Country Fire Authority (CFA), with which it has a Memorandum of Understanding, to carry out the operation.

Mr Burgess said equipment relating to emergency channels 16 and 81 will also be upgraded.

Earlier: Tuesday

Damage by vandals to solar panels on top of Mt Imlay has potentially put mariner’s lives at risk.

The solar panels power up channel 81 for Marine Rescue NSW, a channel mainly used to maintain contact with boats heading south out of Twofold Bay.

Eden unit commander John McKinnon said the local station has been experiencing problems with channel 81 for the past few weeks.

“Channel 81 is a significant part of our operation because it gives us coverage right down into Bass Strait,” he said.

“[The repeater] sits right on the top of Mount Imlay, so unless they’ve been dropped off by helicopter, it seems like someone has walked all the way up there and damaged it.

“We’ve found that it sometimes works during the afternoon when the sun is shining on it and it’s had a chance to charge up a bit, but apart from that it’s no good, so for the moment it’s out of action.”

Mr McKinnon said a contractor was engaged to find the source of the problem, and discovered that the channel’s repeater on Mount Imlay appears to have been damaged by rocks being thrown at its solar panels.

Marine Rescue NSW has reassured boaters that its fundamental emergency channels remain up and running.

Channels 16 and 88, which are used for emergencies, are not affected.

“Head office has been working hammer and tongs to try and get it fixed.”

Marine Rescue NSW deputy commissioner Dean Storey said the organisation’s head office in Sydney has been in regular contact with Coast Guard Victoria, which owns the Mt Imlay repeater, in an attempt to have it repaired as soon as possible.

“We’ve pledged all the support possible to our colleagues at Coast Guard Victoria from our end, and they’re working towards getting it fixed,” Mr Storey said.

“The key message for boaters though is that those fundamental channels, 16 and 88, are still up and running.

“Channel 81 is definitely one that we would like to see back though.”

The Magnet has contacted Coast Guard Victoria to find out when the repeater is expected to be fixed, but is yet to hear back.