Yesterday 46 people had a lucky escape after the tourist boat they were on caught fire and they were forced to abandon the vessel into life-rafts. The ‘Spirit of 1770’ was en route from Lady Musgrave Island back to the Town of 1770 when an engine alarm went off. The crew investigated and that is when it slowly became apparent that all was not well in the engine space. The boat was on fire, and suddenly all 46 souls on board were at serious risk of being seriously injured or dying in the next few hours.
We say they had a lucky escape. But did they really?
The Master made sure that everyone was mustered on the bow, whilst the crew investigated and attempted to put out the fire. When it became apparent that they couldn’t contain the fire, the Master ordered the crew to deploy the life rafts and abandon the vessel. This was done in an orderly manner, once the rafts were deployed into the water.
As passenger Karl Burton described, many people could not swim. They had to jump from the vessel into the water and then climb into the raft. Many people who were in the water realised that it is very difficult to climb into an inflatable life raft from the water. The crew took charge, but it was a team effort to get everyone on board the life rafts.
With 46 people now cold and wet inside two life rafts, their situation was still very marginal. Darkness was approaching, and whilst search and rescue authorities were notified and volunteer rescue boats were on their way, there are not many volunteer rescue boats in Australia capable of embarking 46 survivors. It was a race against time to get enough boats on scene to rescue everyone.
The survivors were in the life rafts for a couple of hours before help was on scene. There is nothing more uncomfortable than sitting in a cold wet rubber life raft for an indeterminate period. Many people were sea sick, and this would have added to the misery in the raft. But help did come, from volunteer rescue boats, water police and good samaritans.
Thankfully everyone was eventually brought ashore by a flotilla of rescue craft. Queensland Ambulance set up a triage reception centre at Town of 1770, and 19 people were treated for minor conditions including dehydration and exposure. The community of 1770 also rallied, with many businesses staying open late to provide something to eat and a warm blanket to the survivors.
It could have been a lot worse, but the Master made a decisive decision early on to abandon the vessel. This allowed the passengers to evacuate to life-rafts in an orderly and controlled manner. The crew did an excellent job in ensuring all passengers were accounted for at all times. The Water Police and Volunteer Marine Rescue responded promptly and ensured that the rescue was coordinated and controlled. The Queensland Ambulance provided facilities to receive the survivors and treat any injuries. It was a team effort all around. They made their own luck.
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