FOUR amateur fishermen on a trip to catch southern bluefin tuna are lucky to be alive after a wave flipped their vessel and dumped them into the sea off Portland in darkness yesterday morning.
They were left stranded and shivering in the cold currents for about an hour, unable to raise the alarm, until by chance another vessel came by and rescued them.
Portland Coast Guard was later alerted and towed the 6.25-metre vessel upside down back into the safety of the harbour where it was righted, minus a collection of valuable fishing gear which was lost at sea.
It was the volunteer group’s 14th ocean assistance in the past fortnight — all involving tuna fishing crews, mostly non-locals.
“They were very lucky,” Coast Guard flotilla commander Michael Krause said.
“It appears the men from Mount Evelyn aged approximately between 30 and 40 had set off to catch tuna and were near Lawrence Rocks about 5.30am when they realised weather conditions were worse than first thought.
“So they turned around and while heading towards port were hit by a rogue wave which tipped them over.
“It happened so quickly in the dark they didn’t have time to activate their emergency devices.
“Fortunately they were rescued by a passing boat crew which alerted authorities and brought the wet men back to shore.
“The rescuers then continued their trip out to sea to catch tuna.”
Ironically the men who tipped over had watched a Coast Guard demonstration about safety flares on Saturday.
For Mr Krause it was another example of visitors failing to properly check conditions before heading out.
“They don’t call this stretch of the Southern Ocean the Shipwreck Coast for nothing,” he said.
“We’ve had 14 assists in the last fortnight — seven last weekend and all involving trailer boats.
“Even the local charter boat cancelled runs this weekend. Today about 50 boats would have launched, most of them out-of-towners.
“Quite a few of the locals are getting a bit sick of the visitors who head out and have to be rescued.
“On April 21, we were called to a boat in trouble about 31 kilometres off the coast in treacherous conditions.
“There was a massive front coming through with waves up to seven metres, 40-knot winds and driving rain.”
The flotilla which celebrated its 10th anniversary dinner on Saturday night receives a government fuel rebate for all rescue missions authorised by police, but has to raise its own funds for maintaining the ageing Coast Guard vessel.
Members often spent most of their weekend leisure hours involved in rescue missions, some of which can take up to seven hours. Sadly some of the rescued crews don’t even have the generosity to make a donation to their rescuers.
“We cover a large area from the South Australian border to Warrnambool and 200 nautical miles from the coast,” he said.
“Our volunteers have other full-time jobs and family.
“We would urge all crews to carefully check the weather forecasts and drive to the point to survey the open sea, because the calm port is deceptive.”