British divers winched to safety are asked to help pay for their rescue
After reports that Richard Neely, 38, and Alison Dalton, 40, sold their story to a tabloid newspaper for a substantial sum,
Queensland's premier, Anna Bligh, suggested they contribute to the cost of the exercise, which involved seven helicopters, three planes and six boats.
"If they are going to profit from their story, I don't think a contribution back would go astray," she said.
The pair were winched to safety on Saturday, nine miles from where they had been diving near the Whitsunday Islands. They said they resurfaced after diving on a reef and found themselves 200 metres from their chartered boat and out of sight of its crew. "I truly thought we were going to die. Sharks were on our mind the entire time, but neither of us mentioned the 's' word," Mr Neely told a Sunday newspaper.
They tied themselves together and tried to remain calm and positive. But, by the early hours, they were freezing, weak and suffering hallucinations.
Mr Neely, from Norfolk, said yesterday he would be "happy to donate" to the cost of the rescue, but denied any responsibility for the incident.
In an interview with Australian TV, he refuted claims he ignored a safety briefing by drifting out of a lagoon and away from the dive site.
Mr Neely is said to have been involved in a number of other dramas, having survived the Boxing Day tsunami and once spent eight hours in water off Thailand after his boat sank.
Australia wants to charge for rescues, so what do the experts think?
MICHAEL MULFORD, Principal UK spokesman for Military Search and Rescue, RAF Kinloss
There are 12 helicopter stations around the UK – the coastguard runs four of them and the military eight. Of these, six are RAF and two are Royal Navy. At Kinloss, we don't answer 999 calls; we get requests from police, Coastguards and hospitals. Every year, we deal with around 2,200 calls from around the UK. We cover a million square miles and save around 1,800 lives every year.
There is an old debate of whether, if somebody falls off a mountain, they should pay their own way, but it isn't a notion we would enter into. We don't charge for what we do. Our criteria is whether someone is in immediate need of immediate life-saving. This has been the system for 40 to 50 years, and it is a system that works.
FIONA WARREN, Spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency
We are a government body and have 19 coastguard stations that respond to any emergency at sea or along the coast. The focus is always on the safety of life, and there is never a cost put on that. The coastguard rescue station, when it gets a call, is able to request whatever is appropriate – including the attendance of lifeboats. Whenever an emergency call comes in, resources are allocated as the coastguard rescue officer sees fit. Our primary duty is to save lives.
Whenever there is a big emergency, there is always the question of how much it costs, but it is very difficult to put a price on any particular operation. Often, you hear that when people are very appreciative of the work of the emergency services, they will give a donation to an organisation such as the RNLI, which depends on donations.
DR STEVE TEALE, Team doctor for Braemar Mountain Rescue
It is a moral question for the people being rescued rather than the people running the service. People are interested in these stories and it sells newspapers. You can't pick and choose who you rescue. If the papers are offering large sums of money, it is up to the individuals…their conscience.
It's a risky game. You don't climb and not take risks.
There are always mistakes made, but, on the whole, most people are reasonably sensible and reasonably well equipped.
JULIA SYLVESTER, Spokeswoman for the RNLI
The RNLI is a charity and is reliant on donations. We don't charge anyone to be rescued, but what would be great is that those rescued give a donation.
One of the reasons we don't charge for rescues is we hope people get in touch with the emergency services the moment they get into trouble. If they think they are going to be charged, they might put off calling the emergency services and put themselves and the crew in danger. The volunteers are non-judgmental. Everyone has been caught out by the weather and the sea, and we would rather they get in contact before it becomes a life-threatening situation.
We run a public service, which is free at the point of need for everyone. The system is funded by the state. Whether people should have to pay for that rescue if they sell their story to the newspapers is a question of personal judgment. It's not for us to say.
JOHN GRIEVE, Team leader, Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team
This case reminds me very much of that of Jacqueline Greaves, who was missing for three nights and two days in the Cairngorms in 1994. She sold her story to a newspaper and really got hammered for it. She said she was going to donate the money to the mountain rescue team – then didn't, and got hammered for that as well.
My view is that if these people have made a bit of money from this, then good luck to them. If somebody asks for help from us, then we give it for free – regardless of the circumstances. There was a Tory MP in the 1980s who tried to introduce the idea of people paying the costs of being rescued, but it was completely knocked on the head by parliament at the time. The Scottish mountain rescue service has always taken the view our service should be free at the point of delivery.
WAYNE VETTER New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, speaking in 1999 about a law to charge 'reckless' hikers up to $10,000 (5,000) for their rescue
A small number aren't prepared for the terrain or the weather and lack equipment or experience they need to hike safely. We hope we seldom have to take steps to bill people for search and rescues. But when those rescues are initiated because of someone's careless or reckless behaviour, we feel it's our responsibility to recover some of those costs.