30 January 2012
In the late hours of a Sunday night three men were fishing in the waters off of Stansbury in a small, unsurveyed commercial net boat.
They were anchored on a sandbar and had set a mesh net targeting shark. At about 8pm they began to retrieve the net.
They were using an unapproved large net reel that had been added to the boat without acknowledging the potential impact on the vessel's stability.
All three were hoping for a big catch. The two crew, Adam Nicolai and Justin Hellyer, both fathers, were allegedly being paid in fish by their friend and skipper of the boat, Andrew Pisani.
Halfway through the retrieval a squall hit. Waves began breaking over the bow. The net became snagged and the vessel began to take on water.
The bilge pumps were poorly sited and did not function properly. Realising how desperate the situation was the crew attempted to cut the net to free the vessel.
A ‘May Day’ radio call was made but no one answered. It was later found that the radio wasn't functioning properly. An EPIRB distress beacon, stowed in the bow of the vessel, wasn’t activated.
The boat sank.
Mr Pisani started swimming for the shore. Mr Nicolai stayed with Mr Hellyer, who had recently moved to the area to find work and wasn’t a strong swimmer. None of the men were wearing Personal Flotation Devices.
It took the skipper about seven hours to reach the shore. He raised the alarm but it was too late for his crew.
Three years later the court found that the crew’s employer had failed to ensure the safety of its employees.
This is a finding which has serious implications for all commercial fishing operations in South Australia.
The court formed the opinion that the wearing of Personal Flotation Devices by all commercial fishermen while on the deck of a commercial fishing vessel is a legal requirement for a safe system of work.
It said wearing PFDs would have significantly increased the possibility of Mr Nicolai and Mr Hellyer surviving.
Their employer was fined $20 000, reduced from $200 000 due to insufficient means, and ordered to pay compensation of $20 000 to the families of the deceased.
Details on Personal Flotation Devices are available on www.sa.gov.au