Safe and Responsible Boating

About 1pm on Wednesday 27 December 2017 Tasmania Police was alerted to an upturned and unmanned vessel on Georges Bay at St Helens.

Police and the St Helens Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) responded to the call and retrieved the 3.5m ‘tinny’and towed it to shore. At that time an esky containing a quantity of beer and a pair of rubber thongs were located floating in the water nearby the vessel.

Examination of the vessel provided considerable evidence to suggest that a fishing trip had ended in tragedy and a full scale search was commenced.
• The search consisted of a number of vessels from the VMR and Tasmania Police, which were launched and began searching the bay. In addition other police vessels were tasked to the area to assist.
• The Westpac Rescue Helicopter was launched and travelled to the area to assist in searching.
• The PV Van Diemen was withdrawn from its patrol and redirected to St Helens to assist in the search and provide divers to assist.
• Land based personnel were tasked to check camping areas and boat ramps for unaccompanied cars and boat trailers.
• The owner of the vessel was identified and efforts were made to contact that person by telephone. Those efforts were unsuccessful adding to the evidence that lives may have been lost or been at risk.
About 4.30pm a vehicle and trailer belonging to the identified owner of the vessel was located near Dora Point. Campers in the area were spoken to by police and were able to identify that four men had launched the boat earlier that morning and had got into difficulties and abandoned the vessel, before swimming ashore.

As a result of receiving that information police were able to locate the men involved. They were able to confirm that all occupants of the vessel had safely returned to land several hours earlier after the overloaded boat took on water from a wave and sank. They confirmed that they spent about 45 minutes in the water swimming back to shore.

However, they did not formally notify any authorities of the incident, and left the boat capsized in the water presenting a navigation hazard to all other vessels in the area.

The search for these people engaged numerous vessels, including an ocean going patrol vessel, a helicopter and upwards of 25 people. While we cannot put a price on saving a life, the use of these resources could have been avoided with a phone call to authorities to alert them to the incident and the presence of the upturned boat in the bay.

Most frustratingly, had there have been a real emergency those resources would not have been available to respond immediately to a genuine threat to life.

Inspector Michael Johnston said: “At this time of the year there is an increased number people enjoying our waterways. Each of them has a responsibility to ensure that safety is their first priority on the water – the wearing of life jackets and well maintained vessels are essential.”

Tasmania Police would like to thank members of the community who raised the alarm in respect of the upturned boat, and particularly the members of the St Helens VMR for their efforts on Wednesday and their ongoing commitment to the safety of all mariners