NT Police have blasted the organisers of a dangerous mass sandbar party held in Darwin Harbour on Sunday, saying people’s lives were put at risk.
A boat capsized, people plucked from the water, and 300 litres of alcohol were confiscated by police in a mass evacuation of the sandbar in a desperate race to beat a rising tide.
Police said about 600 people attended the sandbar party near Cullen Bay Marina. But, when the tide turned, some were left stranded and police worried there might be fatalities.
“Police were frankly horrified at the time about what they were seeing,” NT Water Police Acting Senior Sergeant Andrew Hocking said.
“There were overloaded boats, no safety gear. They had boats capsizing, people in the water, lots of drunken activity.”
Saltwater crocodiles, known for being man-eaters, have been spotted on the sandbar in previous years.
Police say there were also fights, and a 48-year-old man ended up in hospital, as some revellers drank to excess.
Acting Senior Sergeant Hocking said on Monday that police were “genuinely concerned” that people’s lives were at risk.
Pictures and videos posted to social media showed hundreds of party goers dancing in crowds without masks or shade, as temperatures topped 30 degrees.
House music played from DJ decks and commercial speakers from one beached boat.
Before the near-disaster emerged, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner had posted a video of the annual event to his Facebook page. He boasted about the Northern Territory’s success at keeping out COVID.
“You can’t do this in Bondi, but you can do this in Darwin,” he said.
“This is the reward for Covid Zero and hard borders.”
But by late Sunday afternoon, and following an urgent rescue by a makeshift armada, the whole sandbar was under water.
Everyone was evacuated safely.
DJ Faith Von Lit, who played at the event, said the party was a success, raising money for charity.
“We had a COVID check-in barcode that we encouraged people to use, and a COVID safety plan,” she said in a Facebook post Monday.
“We had extra food, water, rubbish bags and sunblock, and we had first aid on hand.”
But NT Police Watch Commander Xavier McMahon said the party was “irresponsible” and did not adequately protect against the dangers posed to attendees.
“People don’t realise how quickly a situation can change with the NT tides, and it was disappointing to see such a large crowd be so irresponsible and put so many people at risk,” he said.
Police said they are still investigating a number of potential marine offences identified at the Sunday party.
The Northern Territory has had just 203 COVID cases since the pandemic began last year. There have been no new infections in more than a month after a snap three-day lockdown in August.