Marina design questioned after Cyclone Yasi destroys $30m in yachts

Port Hinchinbrook Marina today
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Marina design has come under the spotlight following Australia's Cyclone Yasi and this has implications for areas around the word, where cyclone hurricane or typhoon surges can raise sea levels. Floating pontoons in Port Hinchinbrook marina simply floated off the top of the pylons, releasing the yachts to be washed onto the shore and destroyed. This is the claim being made by some owners who lost their boats in the cyclone.

A group of boat owners from the once luxurious marina said their boats would not have sunk last week by Cyclone Yasi if the marina’s pylons had been higher. The cyclone tore through the town marina and sank dozens of boats, with an estimated value of AUS$30m. The three-metre storm surge lifted many of the boats off their pilings while the 100knot winds crushed them against the shoreline.

'I'm very pissed off,' Peter Craw, whose boat Ramia was destroyed in the marina, told Brisbane's Courier Mail. 'They (The boat owners) have talked about extending the pylons because in Cyclone Larry we didn't have far until the boats floated off. If they were another metre or two metres (higher) we would have been safe.'

More than 70 vessels are still piled in the marina.

Port Hinchinbrook Marina as it once was
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'I am just dead now. I was angry and have sat there for two days with the boat,' said Steve Crothers, another owner whose boat sunk to the bottom of the marina. He said there was 'every chance' the boat would have survived if the pylons had been higher.

'Clearly the pontoons floated off the top, so I guess if they were higher that might not have happened, there's no doubt about that,' Bill Shannon, mayor of the Cassowary Coast Regional Council, confirmed to the paper.

A spokesman for the Infrastructure and Planning Minister Stirling Hinchliffe told the paper that the pylon height question was being investigated. 'The Department of Infrastructure and Planning will be working with council and the relevant government agencies to determine what happened at Port Hinchinbrook,' the spokesman said.

Ben Williams, who runs the marina, said every marina in the area would have had the 'exact same occurrence' if it had been hit by the cyclone.

'What people seem to be forgetting is that this was a massive cyclone, a one-in-a-thousand-year event that couldn't be predicted,' he said.

'It's an absolute absurdity to suggest the pylon heights had anything to do with the destruction we saw.

'Could we have built bigger pylons? Of course we could have. But we built in line with expert advice from engineers.'

Mr Williams said the development company had commissioned a study from marine scientists at James Cook University in 2004 about the highest level floodwaters would reach, but the levels recorded by the floods from Yasi were well above that.

He defended advice to boat-owners to keep their yachts in port rather than go into the creeks on Hinchinbrook Island, which is where they have traditionally gone to shelter from storms.

'If that had happened, then I would have feared for the safety of anyone in a boat during that cyclone,' Mr Williams said.

The fact that Cyclone Yasi was the worst cyclone in living memory to hit the east coast of Australia, of the same strength as Katrina but twice as large, could be the reason why engineers had not envisaged such a surge.

There was almost no loss of life during the cyclone because of good warning by weather forecasters, good preparation by authorities led by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and good cooperation by the population of the affected areas.