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Finding a vocation on the sea

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Jon Jon Peters knows he carries a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. As Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s Harbourmaster and Marine Manager, he is responsible for keeping the community safe while they use our local rivers, lakes and harbours.

While the number of on-water rule breaches is up this summer from last, Harbourmaster Jon Jon Peters says the maritime team are making a difference across the Bay and the majority of water users are complying with the rules that keep them safe and more importantly alive.

The father of three grew up in Central India – landlocked hundreds of kilometres from any open water. His father, the late Tony Peters is of Indian descent from Goa and his mother’s family is from England.

His father had many sea captains as friends and they would tell the small impressionable Jon Jon stories of the open seas and adventures they had thousands of kilometers away from home.

At the age of four, he sailed from Mombasa, Kenya to Bombay returning home from visiting family members working as expats on the East African shores – he was sold, it was the life for him.

“I fell in love with the sea – I drew tattoos of anchors, boats and waves up and down my arms day dreaming of the open waters,” he said.

After completing school and working at other jobs, he joined the Merchant Navy as a deck cadet. He travelled across oceans for 10 years on super tankers slowly moving his way up the ranks until he graduated as a sea captain. While on vacation, he met his wife Michelle – who was working for an airline in Hong Kong “I was sailing and she was flying.”

The pair soon had their first son, and settled in Hong Kong for around 10 years and were land locked once again, but over the next 20 years, Jon Jon’s career crossed over different aspects of the shipping world.

From being the general manager of a port, operations manager and cargo superintendent across West Africa to China to the Americas – he knows the industry inside out and has the stories to go with it.

In 2000, he was a mate on board a product tanker when a massive storm hit off the coast of Newfoundland.

It was -18 degrees outside and 9m high waves were smashing over the ship when Jon Jon was summoned to the captain’s quarters. The captain of the ship had passed away and Jon Jon was left in charge to sail the ship to shore through the storm, which lasted two days.

Although attracted to a life at sea, his fondest memories through his career have included places close to shore including travelling up the Kiel Canal in Germany and transporting large ships up and over the Soo Locks in America.

Peters and his family first immigrated to New Zealand around 18 years ago, but then finally returned five years ago after working as an expatriate overseas – he was after a little slice of paradise and a place to call home after so many years traveling abroad.

He spent the last five years in Tauranga working for Maritime New Zealand, but secured his position as the new Bay of Plenty Regional Council Harbourmaster in late 2020.

Each summer the Maritime team patrol the Bay of Plenty waters ensuring that boats and other personal watercraft vessels are following the rules.

Jon Jon knows he has a challenging role keeping the community safe, but that is what drew him to the job.

Jon Jon said flouting the rules is just not worth it.

“Most drownings occur because a person isn’t wearing a life jacket. It’s about safety – we are not here to hand out infringements, we are here to save lives,” he said.

“If you don’t follow the rules you are a danger to yourself and to the rest of the community – the rules are here to save lives – nothing more.

“That is my biggest challenge, getting this message across to the community. We are here to keep you safe and alive.”

If you have broken a rule on Bay of Plenty waters, you will receive a Breach Notice from the Harbourmaster, which includes a warning with a letter of explanation, but no further action will be taken.

If your offence is deemed unforgivable, you will receive an infringement notice, with details of your offence and a $200 fine to be paid.
However, before handing out an infringement, the Harbourmaster will look at a few things.

“The attitude of the offender, have they breached before, do they just not know better for example or are from out of the region. But if you are arrogant and just flouting the law… then you will be fined.”

“It is a challenging job at times and you have to be cautious of not making a wrong call – but the most important thing for me is keeping my eye on the ball which is the safety of the community.

“Some people won’t like that but if it’s good for the community then I am going to do it. I have to look at the bigger picture.”

Read more: April 2021 | BOP Personality Profile

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