Debate flies over stricter boating laws

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Debate continued Thursday over whether state authorities should impose stricter rules on boating, following the deaths and disappearance of six persons in three separate accidents this week. Efforts to find the missing victim of the latest boat accident, a wealthy grocery store retailer, remained unsuccessful Thursday morning.

Boating is popular in Norway, as illustrated by this crowded marina in Oslo. There's disagreement, however, over whether stricter laws will reduce recklessness at sea. PHOTO: Views and News

Police identified the missing man as Per-Erik Burud, the 48-year-old chief executive of the KIWI grocery store chain. Burud was routinely listed as one of Norway’s wealthiest persons after overseeing the expansion of the KIWI chain from just eight stores in Buskerud County in 1991 to more than 500 today.

It’s believed Burud was at the helm of the powerful Goldfish 29 RIB pleasure craft after leaving a party on the island of Veierland off Tjøme in the early morning hours of Wednesday. There were four persons on board including Burud, his 43-year-old wife Anita and another couple, Anne-Lene Novak Aasheim, age 41 and Asbjørn Aasheim, also age 41.

All were thrown into the water after police suspect the person at the helm swerved suddenly to avoid grounding on a semi-submerged rock. The boat was later found drifting with no visible signs of damage.

The bodies of the two women were found by search and rescue workers on Wednesday and Asbjørn Aasheim survived by swimming to shore and being picked up. Burud remains missing and police believe he perished in the accident. He and his wife have two teenaged children.

‘Shocked’
The KIWI grocery store chain is now part of Norway’s dominant retailing firm NorgesGruppen, which confirmed on its own website that Burud was “missing after a tragic boating accident in Vestfold during the night. It is with sorrow that we have received the reports that his wife Anita and her friend were killed in the accident.”

Many KIWI officials and employees broke off their summer holidays to gather at the firm’s offices in Lier and to take part in search efforts.

“We are all quite shocked, as you can understand,” Knut Hartvig Johannson, chairman of NorgesGruppen, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Burud was viewed as a high-profile, hands-on founder of today’s KIWI chain, with one local public relations executive calling him “irreplaceable” in the KIWI system.

Debate over stricter regulation
It was the second speedboat accident in the popular holiday area off Tjøme and Nøtterøy in as many days and none of the victims was wearing a life vest. Another man fell overboard from a sailboat off Hvaler earlier in the week and is presumed drowned. The accidents have dominated local media and set off calls for stricter laws regarding speed limits at sea, use of life vests and prohibiting drinking and boating in line with current laws against drinking and driving.

The government minister in charge of fisheries and coastal issues, Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, said she would propose new speed limits at sea next year and would resist the criticism that’s already arisen.

While many boat owners welcome new regulations, to hinder reckless boating, others believe they won’t be effective without constant and expensive enforcement. Some local communities have already cut back on police patrols at sea, because of budget constraints.

The head of one boating organization called instead for more visible police patrols at sea, while Berg-Hansen thinks tougher rules with posted speed limits along the coast would help. Introducing new rules requires cooperation from three different ministries, though: Berg-Hansen’s own, plus the Justice Ministry (responsible for any new laws against alcohol consumption) and the ministry for industry and trade, which is responsible for any demand for use of life vests.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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