SPEEDBOAT rides on Southend seafront have been halted after a gang of youths, some as young as ten, were seen “tombstoning” in front of boats.

Southend Speed Boats has cancelled rides from the Prince of Wales Jetty, next to Adventure Island, in Marine Parade, for fear of hitting one of the youngsters, who hurled abuse at staff and passengers.

About 12 young people, aged between ten and 20, were “tombstoning”

which is diving or jumping off rocks, cliff faces and piers into a body of water.

Police and coastguards spoke to the gang, but failed to stop the horseplay, leading the firm to cancel rides yesterday, today, tomorrow and Sunday.

The owner, who asked not to be named, said: “They are putting their lives in danger. Some of them climb on to the hand rails of the jetty and do somersaults into the water.

“It’s only 5ft or 6ft deep and if they went in headfirst they would break their necks, but they won’t stop.

“They go under the jetty and spring up in front of the boat.

“If you go down there they threaten you and make abusive remarks.”

Tides and weather mean the boats only operate about 18 days a year, so the cancellation will hit profits hard.

Tombstoning has proved fatal in some cases as daredevils do not knowwhat lies beneath the water level.

Den Freeman, spokesman for the Southend RNLI, said: “Other than the dangers posed by the flowing water, it could be shallow or have hard objects just below the waterline which can cause serious injuries.

“Tombstoning can cause serious spinal injuries or death, it is a very dangerous activity.”

A spokesman for Thames Coastguard said: “Southend Coastguard Rescue Team and Essex Police were sent to a group of 12 youths tombstoning and being abusive at the Prince of Wales Jetty, in Southend.

“Advice was passed to the youths who then dispersed.”

A spokesman for the police said: “Police were contacted by the Thames Coastguard at 2.25pm on Wednesday, following reports that a number of youths were jumping off the Prince of Wales Jetty, and they were concerned for their safety.

“Officers attended the scene and the youths were moved on.”

Tombstoning is so named because participants aim to enter the water upright and straight, like a tombstone.

The deadly pursuit claimed the lives of two men who jumped off Clacton Pier in 2007 while drunk, and figures from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency state more than 20 others around the country have died from tombstoning since 2004.