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Retrieving bodies a 'horrifying' experience

Anti-jump measures on the Story Bridge should be "fast tracked" and water police funding increased so CityCats don't have to pick up bodies.

PT1M43S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-32xte 620 349

Police Minister Jack Dempsey has asked Police Commissioner Ian Stewart to investigate complaints of Queensland Water Police delays in recovering bodies under the Story Bridge.

CityCat and ferry staff say water police often do not have the necessary staff and vessels and have to commandeer transit vessels to collect bodies from the river.

They say they have been ‘‘traumatised’’ after having to deal with bodies of suicide victims.

CityCat docks at stop on the Brisbane River.

A CityCat docks on the Brisbane River.

There have been six instances in the past three weeks.

‘‘I certainly have asked the Commissioner to investigate to see if there is anything we need to do to strengthen the communication between council staff and the police,’’ Mr Dempsey said.

Mr Dempsey said he understood CityCats and ferries worked the river almost 18 hours a day.

‘‘Obviously those RiverCats (sic) are operating all the time, very similar to those hardworking train drivers who see lots of tragic instances on the railway line,’’ he said.

Mr Dempsey said he would ask his Commissioner to speak with Queensland Water Police and council about the CityCat and ferry skippers’ concerns.

‘‘I am happy for the Brisbane City Council to take up with the QPS if there is any concern,’’ he said.

‘‘If they have any concerns - and it is a traumatic situation for all involved - if we can put them at ease, then we are more than willing to help where we can.’’

His comments came as the council continued its no-comment policy in relation to the city's suicide hotspots, as advised by QPS and Lifeline.

In Tuesday morning's public and active transport committee meeting, chairman Peter Matic refused opposition councillors' requests to discuss the retrieval of bodies by council-owned vessels.

Cr Matic's silence on the issue comes a week after Lord Mayor Graham Quirk declined to publicly answer Opposition Leader Milton Dick's questions about the tender process for safety barriers on the Story Bridge, due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The Lord Mayor cited the long-standing council policy of declining to publicly comment on suicide hotspots and opted to update Cr Dick privately on the timeline for the barrier erection process.

Some senior CityCat and ferry staff have questioned why water police do not have police boats available on weekends, since the Water Police shifted from Howard Smith Wharves to Lytton.

One senior shipmaster on Tuesday said he was pleased to hear the Police Minister was interested enough to ask the Commissioner to investigate.

‘‘I’m happy they are going to look into it. That’s a good thing. I guess the problem we have is that we have to do the work for them and to look out for them.’’

Mr Dempsey said water police do have boats available for the inner-city work seven days a week.

However, CityCat and ferry staff say police do not have vessels all the time.

He also said it was untrue that overtime payments prevented staff from being rostered.

In the latest instance on Sunday, Mr Dempsey said general duties police were available first to help locate and collect a body under the Story Bridge - before water police arrived.

He said it was not uncommon for police to call on the general community to help them deal with awkward situations and he had done it many times in his 20 years as a police officer.

CityCat masters and ferry operators have raised the serious problem with the council and Transdev, contracted to run Brisbane’s CityCats, City Hoppers and ferries.

The problems include bodies found by ferry skippers being allowed to float downstream, CityCats in near misses with suicides and ferry staff having to support people in the river thought to have survived falls.

The council called for tenders for the installation of anti-climb measures on the Story Bridge late last year.

The measures, the first phase of a project which will eventually see barriers erected, are expected to be in place later this year.

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.