A Geraldton tourism operator has called for the “archaic” and “ridiculous” red tape governing the Abrolhos Islands to be reviewed after he had to ignore regulations to save a man’s life. Jay Cox runs the Eco Abrolhos expedition ship, which was on a five-day tour of the islands last week when passenger David Hurst, 76, suffered a potentially deadly heart attack. “His wife was awake with him all night because he was struggling to breathe,” he said. “He was in a bad way.” The ship was diverted to the closest island with a runway — Big Rat Island — and a charter plane brought over from Geraldton to take him to Geraldton Hospital. The issue, according to Mr Cox, is that he and other tourism providers have been banned from accessing the island by a body corporate of fishermen who lease the only access points to the island. “If I followed the rules, this man could have died,” Mr Cox said. “It’s a wake-up call. We need an overhaul of the system so something like this doesn’t happen again.” Most of Big Rat Island has been national park land since 2019, but a 50m strip land on the eastern side of the island falls under the Easter Group body corporate lease signed in 2007. Mr Hurst was later flown by the Royal Flying Doctor Service to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth for intensive care and was released on Tuesday. “We’ve been told by the Royal Flying Doctor Service that our actions saved this guy’s life,” Mr Cox said. “The rules governing the island haven’t been reviewed since 2007. “They’re so archaic and outdated it’s not funny.” Mr Hurst has since recovered well and was back at home in Yanchep, north of Perth, according to his wife Avril. She said she believed his life had been saved by the quick thinking of the Eco Abrolhos crew and the quality of WA’s medical services. “We’re from Zimbabwe so we don’t scare easily but it was quite a tense time,” she said. “Words can’t express how amazing the medical treatment was every step of the way.” Mrs Hurst and her husband backed Mr Cox, saying it was “ridiculous” access to the island was prohibited by a body corporate lease even in the event of an emergency. “I was in the army and had a lot of medical experience,” Mrs Hurst said. “David may not have survived if we had travelled back to East Wallabi Island.” The couple had flown into East Wallabi Island, which Mr Cox says has the only runway he is permitted to use, for the beginning of the cruise. At the time of Mr Hurst’s heart attack, they were more than two hours from there. Easter Group body corporate chair Leonie Noble confirmed tourism groups were prohibited access to land on the island group because there was “no provision for land-based tourism” in the lease. She said, however, things would be different in the event of an emergency because “that’s just human goodness”. Mid West Development Commission director Mike Bowley said contention between fishers and tourism operators over access to the Abrolhos islands was “nothing new”. “But this incident highlights some of the barriers that need to be addressed for the long-term development of the islands,” he said. Management of the Abrolhos Islands Reserve, which includes the body corporate leases, falls under the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, which regulates access and use. DPIRD compliance and operations director Ron Shepherd said all stakeholders of the Abrolhos Islands were committed to supporting any medical incident. “The provision of medical evacuation support to a person, as in this case, is an insensitive manner in which to raise matters related to ongoing community discussions around tourism and the future management of the Abrolhos,” he said.