`Swimmers only' zones proposed after jet-ski deaths

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A SAFETY crackdown on the use of jet-skis was announced yesterday after a spate of accidents, some of them fatal.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, said a new code of practice will be introduced next year alongside compulsory registration, licensing and training schemes for the 10,000 jet-ski owners in Britain.

Speaking at the launch of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Mr Prescott said: "Around 12,000 sea or coastal incidents are reported to the MCA each year. A large number of them involve those who use personal watercraft like jet-skis for recreational purposes and I have agreed to a number of measures to make these activities safer."

The Government has been under increasing pressure to introduce a new set of safety measures for jet-skiers after a series of deaths and injuries at home and abroad. Earlier this year a Private Member's Bill proposing an age limit for jet-skiers be set at 16 and speed limits imposed on inexperienced participants went before Parliament.

Mr Prescott's announcement came just one day after the most recent British fatality. Karen White, 32, from Southampton, was riding pillion with her husband, Greg, while on holiday in Cyprus. She died when they collided with a second machine driven by a Dutch tourist, who appeared in court yesterday on suspicion of reckless driving, causing death and driving a jet-ski under the influence of alcohol.

At an inquest in July, Anthony Gee, 37, was warned about the way he was riding a jet-ski on the day he collided with a speedboat in an accident that killed his 17-year-old niece, Faye Grundy. The ride was Mr Gee's first experience of jet-skiing.

Also in July, 10-year-old Michael Taylor, from Dundee, was seriously injured after the jet-ski he was driving on the River Tay smashed into the side of a power boat. His father called for an inquiry, saying he believed his son was capable of handling a powerful machine.

In August, Simon Tullet, 23, suffered serious injuries in a jet-ski crash in the Mersey estuary off New Brighton, Wirral.

Roger Vincent, a spokes- man for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: "We have been concerned for some time about the number of accidents involving jet-skis both at home and abroad, on offshore and inland waters.

"There have been some frightening examples, particularly of children driving these things and parents who have hired them out having no idea about how powerful these machines are. We had one coastguard ring us because he had seen a six-year-old boy riding one around a harbour. His parents had no understanding that he was in danger."

The new rules for jet-skiers formed part of a review of coastal by-laws, which recommends safe bathing areas where all pleasure craft would be excluded. Mr Prescott will also ask the MCA to develop a plan for national search operations on the sea and land.

The MCA comprises the former Coastguard Agency and the Marine Safety Agency. It was launched at the Coastguard Centre in Lee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire, which is due to merge with Portland in Dorset by the end of 2003. Four other coastguard stations are due to close. The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents coastguards, boycotted the launch.