A fishing crew whose boat was adrift for almost a fortnight in the Great Australian Bight has made it safely back to land, days after running out of food and being forced to eat its seafood catch.
But in a tragic twist, one of the five-member crew was informed of the death of a family member while the vessel was stranded at sea.
The fishing vessel Silver Phoenix was today towed back to the wharf at Port Lincoln on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.
The crew, which included a fisheries researcher from Canberra, spent 12 days drifting in the Southern Ocean after running into engine trouble in waters off the SA–WA border.
“There was nobody else out there,” skipper Peter Woods said.
“A liner in the main engine cracked and was letting water into the engine sump … so it was totally shut down.”
While the crew was not in imminent danger, Mr Woods made contact with the Port Lincoln harbour master to organise a tow.
A nearby fishing boat then came to help but two steel cables snapped in rough weather, forcing it to head back to shore and leaving the Silver Phoenix drifting again.
‘Refused to help’
Another nearby vessel is reported to have refused to come to the boat’s aid.
Mr Woods said the on-board food stocks eventually ran out, leaving them without supplies for two days before another boat finally arrived — but they still had plenty of fish to eat.
“Burned fish, crumbed fish, battered fish. We hadn’t got to the stewed yet!” he said.
While they were out at sea, one of the Silver Phoenix crew members was informed of a personal bereavement, making the time away from family especially tough.
“We got a phone call out there … one of the people on the vessel had a loss in the family, but you can’t do nothing,” Mr Woods said.
The Silver Phoenix was eventually towed by the vessel Saxon S in a rescue coordinated by the Stehr Group, which is one of the major players in the area’s bluefin tuna industry.
The company’s marine operations manager Robbie Staunton said it was a lengthy process to prepare the rescue, let alone carry it out.
“It’s hard to get guys just before Christmas to get a crew together,” he said.
“A lot of things had to be undertaken. We need contracts, it’s a very expensive operation, there’s insurance companies involved. We need to make sure we’re doing it correctly, safely.”
Mr Staunton said “horrendous” weather delayed the departure of the Saxon S, but it was able to leave harbour last Saturday.
“The weather moderated, luckily, and off we went. It wasn’t 48 hours later until we got out there, then the fun began,” he said.
Mr Staunton said until the Saxon S arrived, the Silver Phoenix was effectively “helpless” and said it was “disappointing” another nearby vessel had elected not to provide assistance.
“If someone’s in trouble, especially on the ocean, you’ve got to help,” he said.
“If you’ve got the capability you just have to do it, they’re humans out there.”
That view was echoed by the skipper of the Silver Phoenix.
“It’s an unwritten law. The closest vessel to that vessel in distress is, in some circles, bound by unwritten law to go and get them,” Mr Woods said.
“But maybe I’m from a different period. Maybe I’m older than some of these so-called skippers.”