MARINE Rescue NSW has condemned the mindless vandalism of the service's new Wooli vessel on Saturday night which, aside from the $50,000 repair bill, has cut vital rescue resources from the service in a busy boating period.
MRNSW Commissioner Stacey Tannos said the $345,000 offshore rescue vessel was one of four Marine Rescue vessels gathered at Coffs Harbour for a multi-agency regional Search and Rescue Exercise this weekend.
A NSW Fisheries boat and the NSW Police Force vessel Fearless also were targeted by the vandals.
"Sometime between 4.30pm yesterday and 7am today some mindless fool has slashed the sponsons - the boat's airfilled buoyancy tubes - all the way around the vessel with something like a Stanley knife," Commissioner Tannos said.
"Members of Marine Rescue NSW are all volunteers. They give their time to protect the community by helping boaters in trouble on the water.
"They deserve nothing but our thanks and support but this vandalism is just a slap in the face in return for their selfless commitment."
The Wooli vessel, which was only delivered at Easter, is now off the water for major repairs at the start of the peak summer boating season.
"We have already been in touch with the boat's builder, Yamba Welding & Engineering, who will look at a temporary fix to try to get the boat on the water as soon as possible while permanent replacement tubes are sourced," Commissioner Tannos said.
"The Mid North Coast and Northern Rivers are among the State's most popular summer boating playgrounds and it is vital that our rescue crews are trained and equipped to respond immediately when needed.
"We will re-position a rescue vessel from our Iluka-Yamba unit to Wooli in the interim and will have the Wooli vessel back on the water as quickly as we can but this is a potentially life-threatening act of senseless stupidity.
"As well as the expensive damage caused, it has also wasted significant public funding and resources by forcing today's Search and Research Exercise, which was designed to test regional agencies' rescue skills and capabilities, to be considerably scaled back.
"These exercises are an integral part of our members' on-water training and this disruption is a major disappointment to them. These exercises help ensure that personnel from all relevant agencies are familiar with their roles and responsibilities in a marine emergency."
Up to 50 Marine Rescue volunteers from the Wooli, Woolgoolga, Coffs Harbour, Nambucca, Trail Bay, Port Macquarie, Camden Have, Crowdy Harrington and Forster-Tuncurry Marine Rescue units were attending the two-day event, which started with desktop exercises yesterday.
A major simulated search and rescue of "missing persons" (rescue dummies) was meant to take place on the water and Solitary Island today but as a result of the vandalism, only a limited exercise could be mounted.