Hero tells his story after boat disaster

Emergency services attend to the first passengers ashore after the boat they were traveling on caught fire.
Emergency services attend to the first passengers ashore after the boat they were traveling on caught fire. Paul Braven

IN A small town, news travels fast.

Which is why when James Brown heard the ambulance sirens sound late Wednesday afternoon, he decided to see what the commotion was.

The owner/operator of Fishing Offshore 1770 heard about the fire that had erupted on the Spirit of 1770 and knew he had to help any way he could.

"I heard the ambulance go down past where I live and I thought I would go check it out," he said.

"I noticed the boys had pulled the VMR boat out ... and one of my mates, he was running back up and I asked him what was going on and he told me.

"Because we're only a little town, resources are scarce and you have to help out where you can."

The skipper raced into action, grabbing a friend to help as dark approached.

"I came home, grabbed the boat and another one of my mates, Marty, he came as well and we put the boat in the water and went out there," he said.

"By the time we got to the scene it was night time. There was nothing much you could see, we had to let them shoot off a flare so we could find their actual position. The coordinates kept changing all the time."

By this stage there was nothing left of the catamaran and passengers were in life rafts.

"It was pretty rough out there, probably a metre and a half seas from the south, so it was a little bit uncomfortable.

"Once we got there we got the signal from the VMR to go into one of the rafts to collect as many as we could. I decided on nine on my boat, being one of the smaller boats, I just thought I don't want to put ourselves or any more people at risk and I knew my boat could handle it.

"There was myself and three other crew members on my boat with nine survivors and we made our way straight back into shore."

James said many of the passengers appeared to be in shock, but were grateful to be rescued.

"The crew on the Spirit are trained to keep everyone calm. The hardest part was the language barrier," he said.

"They were in shock more than anything. None of them really said anything. They were just glad to be on a boat and know they were saved."

The fire was the second incident in two weeks in the area, James said.

"A week prior there was another accident with a boat hitting the headland and three or four crew members were injured.

"In the marine industry things do go wrong but usually not that catastrophic.

"When a boat goes down of that size and nature it is pretty uncommon.

"You've got to remember your training and just stay calm and listen for instructions from the people in charge."

Topics:  1770 boat fire editors picks spirit of 1770

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