PORTLAND Coast Guard volunteers who tried to save the burning hulk of Bluefin II, which sank near Cape Nelson on Saturday afternoon, had just completed firefighting training before their new skills were put to the test.
Australian Volunteer Coast Guard Portland Flotilla Commander Stephen Brown said the volunteers regularly train for all kinds of emergencies and had completed firefighting training just three weeks before the tuna charter vessel went to the bottom following an electrical fire. Six passengers and two crewmen escaped on a life raft, from which they were picked up and taken to Portland harbour by two fellow charter operators who’d seen the smoke and come over to help.
“This was the first time this year our crew has had to deal with a fire on board a fishing boat,” Commander Brown said. “It’s not all that common.”
Once the passengers and crew were safe, the Coast Guard did all it could to save the boat, but the fire was too fierce and Bluefin II burned and sank before it could be towed back to the harbour.
The boat’s skipper, Joe O’Connor, said he appreciated the way other charter operators had quickly come to his stricken vessel’s aid.
“I would certainly do the same thing for them if their boats were in trouble,” he said.
Mr O’Connor said there was a fresh offshore wind blowing when the fire broke out below deck.
“We tried to put it out with the extinguisher, but it kept flaring up and it was just too toxic,” he said. “I put lifejackets on the passengers and got them into the raft. We used the wind to get away from the boat.”
Read more in Wednesday’s edition of the Portland Observer.