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Sunday, August 10, 2008

The case of Yacht Kaz II

I blogged about the case of yacht Kaz II as part of a post entitled "Peril of yachting in the South Ocean" last year. Kaz II has been branded as a ghost ship ever since she was found on April 18, 2007 while drifting with engine running but no crew on board. TimesOnline reported a week later that pthe three men crew "were most like washed overboard in a violent squall or freak wave according to police" among other possible explanations.

Well, there was a "coronial' inquiry being conducted last week and this morning the Guardian reported the coroner's ruling. First a recap of the case:

The trio, described as "typical Aussie blokes", vanished after setting sail on April 15 last year on a planned two-month trip, bound for Western Australia where they all lived. Three days later, the white-painted vessel which Mr Batten had only recently bought for £60,000 was found adrift and with a ripped sail about 100 miles north-east of Townsville, near the Whitsunday islands.

The engine was idling, a half-empty cup of coffee and a laptop computer were sitting on a table, a newspaper was lying open with some pages strewn on the floor and clothing had been piled on a bench.

The men went to sea with a large supply of food, three cases of beer, a .44 calibre rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition, the inquest was told.

Now the finding:

Coroner Michael Barnes said evidence put before him during a four day inquest led him to conclude that "an unfortunate series of events," befell the trio, who were all relatively inexperienced sailors, only a few hours after they set sail.

In the scenario he laid out, the coroner said one of the brothers attempted to free a fishing line that had become wrapped around the yacht's propeller when he fell overboard. The other brother fell in while trying to rescue him.

Mr Batten tried to drop the sails so he could turn around and go back for his two friends but a change in the wind's direction caused the yacht's boom to swing and knock him overboard.

"Once the three men were in the water there was very little chance they could get back on the boat," he said. "It would be beyond their reach in seconds. From that point, the end would have been swift.

"None of them was a good swimmer, the seas were choppy, they would have quickly become exhausted and sunk beneath the waves. Although I can't exclude the possibility of a shark attacking them, drowning is a far more likely cause of death."

which is a very plausible scenario. I am impressed. I guess an important piece of evidence which might not have made public before was shown to the court, in which the skipper, Des Batten, was holding the camera and
Jim Tunstead can be seen fishing while he and Mr Batten are heard mocking Peter Tunstead, a non-swimmer, who was sitting fishing at the back with the safety rail down. He was not wearing a lifejacket. In the film, the men talk about "threatening skies" ahead.
That seems to be a logical scene that led to the scenario the coroner concluded. They were not good swimmers and they did not bother to wear their lifejacket should also be an important lesson for everyone to learn here.

The seas were choppy, we can not preclude the possible occurrence of a freaque wave. But whether or not a freaque wave occurred, it will not alter in any way the scenario the coroner so brilliantly laid out.

They still have not been able to find their bodies. But at least their yacht, the Kaz II, is no longer a ghost boat.

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