Australian Seafood.com manager Barry Ehrke with some freshly processed scallops.
Australian Seafood.com manager Barry Ehrke with some freshly processed scallops.

Retired fisho fighting for maritime safety

FOR 30 years Bundaberg's Barry Ehrke has been on a crusade.

The retired fisherman has battled to highlight safety issues in the commercial fishing industry.

Last week Coroner David O'Connell referred to Mr Ehrke's testimony as he handed down his findings into the sinking of vessel Dianne and trawler Cassandra.

Mr O'Connell has called for a series of recommendations to be adopted following the deaths of eight people aboard the vessels, including implementing a real-time monitoring of the VMS tracking or "failure to poll" function.

The Vessel Monitoring System includes a function in which it transmits a radio signal, or "poll", intermittently for vessel monitoring, polls transmitting once an hour at most.

"It must be a very pleasing day for persons like Mr Ehrke to see action he has pursued for nearly 30 years to finally occur," Mr O'Connell said in his report.

Mr Ehrke was called as a professional witness for the case of the Cassandra due to his lifetime of experience as a commercial fisherman, working on boats since he was 13.

Now retired from his days on-deck, Mr Ehrke is still involved in the industry and remembers the introduction of the VMS in the early 1990s.

Mr Ehrke gave evidence as to how VMS was sold to commercial fishers, which included a safety or monitoring aspect, something the Department of Fisheries originally denied.

"In the inquiry, the Fisheries Department's solicitors tried to get me to admit that it was never, ever a safety management tool," Mr Ehrke said.

"But I knew that it was because I was part of it, I was still fishing at the time and I knew the people that were going around selling it to the industry."

Coroner O'Connell wrote in his report that he was told by the Fisheries Department a number of times that the VMS did not have a safety function.

For a more in-depth look into the Coroner's report, stay tuned for Saturday's edition.



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