BOAT BLAZE: The Spirit of 1770 pictured at sunset on May 11 as it burnt to the waterline near Lady Musgrave. Inset: Emergency services cared for the passengers on baord.
BOAT BLAZE: The Spirit of 1770 pictured at sunset on May 11 as it burnt to the waterline near Lady Musgrave. Inset: Emergency services cared for the passengers on baord. Contributed

Captain unable to call mayday when vessel burst into flames

A DECKHAND'S evidence has derailed a hearing into why mayday wasn't called when the Spirit of 1770 went up in flames.

A vital part of the case against vessel master Anthony Dean Grose has been thrown out after a fellow crew member gave evidence in Gladstone Magistrates Court on Monday.

Mr Grose was the master of the Spirit of 1770 in May, 2016 when 42 passengers and three other crew members on board were forced to abandon ship.

The Spirit of 1770 was returning to Seventeen Seventy from a day trip to Lady Musgrave Island when a fire engulfed the vessel which later sank about 14 nautical miles from shore.

Following investigations, Mr Grose was charged with one count each of master negligently risks safety of a person or domestic commercial vessel and master recklessly contravene duty to ensure safety of vessels, marine safety equipment or operations.

At the beginning of the hearing, Crown prosecutor Glen Rice told the court he planned to focus on Mr Grose's breach of the Maritime Domestic Commercial Safety National Law Act by failing to issue the mayday call.

Mr Rice said the breaches occurred with Mr Grose's failure to provide necessary information to assist in the safety of the vessel and its operation.

The court heard Mr Grose contacted Volunteer Marine Rescue via radio at Round Hill about 3.33pm with the message: "PAN PAN, PAN PAN. Fire on board, I'll call the office".

The court heard this was the last radio contact Mr Grose made, providing no further information to VMR or authorities of his location or situation.

But Mr Rice's stance changed after new evidence was heard from the deckhand during the fire, Bruce MacLennan, who told the court it would have been impossible for Mr Grose to make a mayday call using the radio.

Mr MacLennan told the court the vessel had two engine rooms and he first saw the steam coming from the port (left side) room.

It quickly turned to brown smoke.

Mr MacLennan told the court at one point he "couldn't breathe" and was slumped over the side of vessel.

"I couldn't find a place to breathe , there was so much smoke," he said.

"I could hear batteries exploding ... engines exploding."

The court heard the generator providing power for the vessel was in one of the engine rooms. However, when the room became engulfed in smoke, the power cut out.

Without the power, Mr Grose would need to use the fully-charged back up batteries to operate a radio, the court was told.

Mr MacLennan told the court the section where the batteries were stored, the wheelhouse, had been swallowed by smoke.

He told the court the only area of the vessel that wasn't affected by smoke was on the upper deck at the bow (front), where all passengers and crew had gathered.

The court heard Mr Grose did make contact with authorities using a mobile phone. After trying to fight the fire, Mr Grose made the call to abandon ship.

An emergency position-indicating radio beacon or EPIRB was activated and a Volunteer Marine Rescue vessel, with emergency service workers on board arrived to help transport the life rafts.

All 46 people on board were rescued and taken to shore.

Mr MacLennan told the court Mr Grose was reluctant to leave the ship and was "absolutely" the last person to board the life rafts.

After Mr MacLennan gave his evidence, Mr Rice asked Magistrate Philippa Beckinsale if the matters could be adjourned.

Mr Rice said it was clear that returning to the wheelhouse to make a mayday call was not an option for Mr Grose.

Mr Rice told the court there was another aspect of "non-compliance" which he had not gone into detail of given he had focused his case on the mayday element.

The matters were adjourned to 10am today.



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