Coroner's Court of Western Australia

Inquest into the Death of Mason Laurence CARTER and Murray Allan TURNER and Chad Alan FAIRLEY

Inquest into the Death of Mason Laurence CARTER and Murray Allan TURNER and Chad Alan FAIRLEY

Delivered on :28 February 2018

Delivered at : Perth

Finding of : Coroner Linton

Recommendations :Yes

Recommendation 1.

I recommend that AMSA, as the National Regulator of the National Law, should give consideration to establishing a transitional approach to ending the grandfathering of safety standards for existing vessels. Compliance with current standards in regard to vessel operations and safety equipment should be given priority.

Recommendation 2.

I recommend that AMSA, as the National Regulator of the National Law, should give guidance to accredited surveyors to remind them of the importance of independently verifying key information when assessing a vessel’s stability, given the critical importance of the stability of a vessel in allowing a vessel to operate safely.

Recommendation 3.

I recommend that Fisheries give guidance to its staff that, in addition to the regulatory aspect to the VMS, there is an important secondary safety aspect that they have a responsibility to facilitate as part of their duties. Staff should prioritise communicating with a vessel that has issued an LAC alert that cannot be resolved and if the relevant staff are unsuccessful in contacting the vessel or ascertaining its whereabouts within 4 hours of becoming aware of the alert, they should notify Water Police of the relevant circumstances and provide any relevant information that is available from the VMS to aid police in determining whether, and where, a search should be commenced.  In addition, I recommend that, moving forward, Fisheries should consider ways in which the VMS can be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and if a practical means can be found, they should be resourced accordingly.

Recommendation 4.

I recommend that AMSA, as the National Regulator of the National Law, should give strong consideration to making changes to the current regulatory requirements concerning EPIRBs to include mandatory requirements for the carriage on both new and existing vessels of float free EPIRBs that deploy automatically when immersed in water, where these are appropriate.

Recommendation 5.

I recommend that AMSA, as the National Regulator of the National Law, working in conjunction with Worksafe in Western Australia, should promote and encourage the wearing of life jackets while working on commercial fishing vessels, noting that commercial fishing vessels are workplaces and there is a need to improve the safety culture on these vessels.

Orders/Rules : N/A

Suppression Order : N/A

Summary : On 6 July 2015 a fishing boat named the Returner left Point Samson with Murray Turner, Chad Fairley and Mason Carter on board. The three men were intending to head to Nickol Bay for a trawling trip and were scheduled to arrive back in Point Samson on 15 July 2015.  The last contact with the vessel and its crew was shortly before 2.00 am on 11 July 2015.  On 15 July 2015, when the vessel did not arrive at the boat harbour as scheduled, Water Police were advised and an extensive air, land and sea search was commenced.  The vessel was eventually located and the body of Murray Turner was found on board.  The bodies of Chad Fairley and Mason Carter were not found and no sign of them was discovered.

The focus of the inquest was primarily on determining whether the deaths of Mason Carter and Chad Fairley could be established beyond reasonable doubt. The inquest also canvassed the reason and reasons why the vessel sank, which focussed upon the refurbishment of the Returner by Mr Turner, as well as the possible contributing environmental factors.

Mr Turner purchased a 13 metre fishing boat in October 2014 and it was described as being in poor condition and in need of repair at the time of purchase. The fishing boat was located in Mandurah when it was purchased and Mr Turner steamed the fishing boat up to Geraldton between October 2014 and January 2015.  Mr Turner then berthed the boat at the Geraldton fishing Boat Harbour.  Over the next four months he refurbished the vessel to suit his requirements to fish for prawns, as he intended to use it as a prawn trawler along the northern coastline from Dampier to Port Hedland.  Modifications were completed by a number of different tradespeople, with Mr Turner being responsible for overseeing the works in their entirety.  Mr Turner also repainted the vessel in a yellow colour and changed the name to the Returner.  After completing the modifications on the Returner it underwent two survey processes while still in Geraldton.  One was conducted for insurance purposes by a private company and the other was conducted via the DoT, on behalf of AMSA.

On 8 May 2015 Mr Turner steamed the Returner from Geraldton to Carnarvon and then onto Point Samson, where the Returner was berthed at Johns Creek Boat Harbour on 24 May 2015. It was reported the Returner had travelled through some heavy winds to get to Carnarvon and there had been problems with the autopilot, but the vessel arrived without incident.  The Returner was prepared for trawling in depths of 2 metres and up to 6 metres of water.  Some sea trials were performed and the vessel was thought to perform satisfactory, although some concerns were raised about the booms.

The Returner returned to the boat harbour on 3 June 2015 and just before midnight on 6 June 2015 the Returner left the boat harbour with the intention of going trawling. The Returner arrived back in the harbour two weeks later on 21 June 2015 and although little is known about what occurred during the two week period, it appears to have passed without major incident.  On 26 June 2015 the Returner left the harbour to trawl for prawns off the coast of Dampier, and returned on 2 July 2015 with no significant issues.  On 6 July 2015 the Returner left the boat harbour in Point Samson with Mr Turner, Mr Mason and Mr Fairley on board.  The last communication with the vessel was made with a text message conversation between 12.50am and 1.32 am on 11 July 2015.  A witness who was camping 45 km south of Port Samson gave evidence that on the night of 11 July 2015 the weather was bad and at 1.38 am she saw a trawler off the coast of Cleaverville when she was checking outside her caravan.  This witness did not see the vessel again when she looked out to sea around 4.00 to 5.00 am.

On the afternoon of 15 July 2015 notification was received by officers based at the Water Police of the Returner’s disappearance. Police immediately coordinated an air and shoreline search around the last known ALC position of the Returner.  On 29 July 2015 a police vessel identified the missing vessel Returner which was submerged in approximately 10 metres of water 20 km from Nickol Bay, Karratha, and was approximately 1.9 nautical miles, or approximately 3.5 kilometres, from its last known position.  On 31 July 2015 Police divers confirmed the vessel to be the Returner and on 1 August 2015 police divers recovered Mr Turner’s body which was located inside the accommodation quarters of the vessel.  No other persons were located on board or in the surrounding debris field.  On 17 August 2015 commercial salvage operator was contracted to raise the Returner for examination.

The Coroner found Murray Allan Turner died on or about 11 July 2015 in sea off Nickol Bay, Dampier as a result of immersion and the deaths of Mason Laurence Carter and Chad Alan Fairley have been established beyond all reasonable doubt and their deaths occurred on or about 11 July 2015 in sea off Nickol Bay, Dampier as a result of unascertained cause. The Coroner made five recommendations in respect to public safety.

Catch Words : National Law AMSA and grandfathering of existing vessels : Surveyor Accreditation Scheme : Vessel Monitoring System : Float Free, Water-activated EPIRBs and PLB : Life Jackets :

Last updated: 12-Mar-2018

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