Spotlight On Boat Workers Under Influence Of Drugs On The Job

The country's peak road association is launching a new water safety campaign after nearly a dozen Sydney ferry deckhands were suspended following drug tests.

The NRMA, which owns the Manly Fast Ferry, will provide drug rehabilitation and counselling to 10 staff, the agency announced on Monday.

Last week, a pre-shift random drug test of 16 deckhands returned five positive test results, while another five employees refused to make themselves available for testing.

All 10 workers have been stood down indefinitely, bringing to the surface the issue of a "growing and alarming number" of harbourside workers testing positive to illicit drugs, the NRMA said.

"For the first time in our history, we were shocked and appalled and saddened to see a positive return," NRMA Spokesperson Peter Khoury told 10 News First.

"Clearly we have a problem, and it's not just the NRMA. We know that there are problems with drugs on the harbour, we know that there are problems with drugs in our community."

The Manly Fast Ferry. Image: Getty

The suspensions have been enough to temporarily effect ferry services running between Manly and Darling Harbour.

It comes as new research from the Royal Life Saving Society revealed a "staggering" one-third of all boat-related drownings in Australia involve drugs -- one third of which were illicit.

"We hadn't understood the magnitude of the problem," Justin Scarr, CEO of Royal Life Saving Society, told 10 News First.

"We were really quite surprised by these results. Effectively it means that one in ten boating related drowning deaths, illicit drugs is a significant factor.

READ MORE: Should Drug Dealers Be Charged With Manslaughter Or Murder?

The drugs connected to the drowning deaths reviewed by the study included cocaine, methamphetamine and cannabis.

Scarr said comes to driving a boat under the influence of drugs runs the same risks associated with driving a car on drugs. Not unlike roads, the effects of drugs on water safety is a growing concern.

Passenger ferry in the middle of Sydney harbour en route to Manly from city wharf. Image: Getty

In a bid to protect waterways in the same way authorities protect highways, the NRMA is calling for tougher penalties for repeat offenders on the water, and greater transparency around drug and alcohol testing for all ferry operators.

"Today it's the NRMA talking about harbour safety. Tomorrow it could be the coroner, and that's the last thing any of us need," Khoury said.

READ MORE: 1 In 9 Drug Driving Tests Are Positive In NSW, 1 In 5 In QLD

The organisation is also recommending more resources be made available for the Maritime Enforcement Enhancement Program, to allow police to increase drug and alcohol tests on Sydney Harbour.

“The employees who made the terrible decision to come to work affected by drugs, while not alone in this industry, put the lives of our customers at risk,"  NRMA Group CEO Rohan Lund said.

“Nobody wants to share the road with a drug or alcohol-affected driver so why would we tolerate the same on our Harbour."

All 10 workers stood down from the Manly Fast Ferry were members of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, which the NRMA is also calling on to back its recommendations and run its own education campaign around the risks of drugs and alcohol use on the Harbour.