Jan 27- The coroner says people must listen to surf lifesavers and follow basic water safety rules to avoid more crab-fishing drownings on New Zealand beaches.

An inquest into the death of a young Chinese man who drowned at Uretiti Beach on Christmas Day, 2014, found messages about water safety were starting to get through to crab fishers in the Chinese community in Auckland, but more needed to be done to avoid more deaths.

Heng Li was 23 when he drowned trying to retrieve a crab pot from choppy water at Northland's Uretiti Beach.

Mr Li was part of a 600-strong group who went to Uretiti over Christmas to enjoy the beach and go crab fishing, which was something of an annual tradition.


In the inquest, Coroner H. B. Shortland noted the deaths of other crab fishers in similar conditions, including another Christmas Day drowning in 2013 and the death in November of a man who drowned at Uretiti when he was blown offshore and tipped from a small inflatable boat while setting pots.

The man was not wearing a lifejacket.

WaterSafe Auckland and Surf Lifesaving New Zealand recommended education about the importance of wearing lifejackets while crab fishing as well as clear signs at dangerous spots and pamphlets in several languages, specifically targeting Asians who travelled north over the Christmas holiday.

The coroner endorsed these recommendations and the importance of listening to lifesavers' advice about when to stay out of the water. Unless these messages were heeded, he said "there will be further drownings".

Surf Lifesaving noted that increasing numbers of people at Uretiti over Christmas was challenging for the team of mostly volunteers patrolling the beach.

The coroner supported the suggestion for a dedicated team to cover the beach over this time.