Whitsunday charter boat skipper fined
A WHITSUNDAY charter boat skipper with almost 40 years experience, has been fined $1800 for failing to safely operate his ship.
Max William Freckleton appeared in the Proserpine Magistrate’s Court on Monday and pleaded guilty to the charge.
The court heard that on January 16, 2012, Freckleton was the master of the Whitsunday charter boat Anaconda III.
The vessel was moored at Bait Reef where the then 69-year-old captain had planned to depart at 6am, due to the forecast for inclement weather of 20-25 knot winds.
Barrister for Queensland Transport (TMR), Isaac Munsie, said when the time came, Freckleton decided to delay his departure for another hour, to see if the weather would improve.
He said Freckleton felt pressured by the timetable of the trip and at 7am the crew were instructed to drop the mooring lines.
Mr Munsie indicated there was some difficulty with this, and that Freckleton was left in the situation of having to undertake a complicated manoeuvre to exit the reef.
The court was told this was made more difficult by the loss of a lateral marker, destroyed by Cyclone Ului in 2010, and only replaced with a temporary float.
Mr Munsie said Freckleton lost sight of the float and ran the boat onto the reef, resulting in a $52,111 repair bill.
He said Freckleton told investigators he didn’t think the compass was working properly at the time, but didn’t use a GPS.
Despite the fact the boat was taking on water, Freckleton managed to move it to the Whitsunday islands where passengers could safely be transferred to another ship – a fact that defence solicitor Sherrie Meade raised in his favour.
Ms Meade produced photographs to illustrate the difficulty Freckleton had in seeing the limited navigational aids through the wind and the rain.
Claiming a GPS and compass would not have helped him in the circumstances, she also raised questions about the extent of the damage sustained.
“It’s not unusual for boats to go aground on the reef – it happens,” she said, pointing out that on most occasions, this simply resulted in “scratches” to the hull.
“[But] this seemed to have hit something that was a lot more solid.”
Ms Meade’s explanation for this was that Freckleton may have hit submerged remains of the lateral marker.
She said the now 71-year-old was “a very, very experienced captain” having skippered cargo ships to PNG, the Solomon Islands and Singapore.
“This is a man who’s used to coral [and] used to reefs,” she said.
Finally Ms Meade provided a letter from the current owner of the Anaconda III, describing Freckleton as a talented captain.
“And he would put him back on a boat and would have no qualms about it,” she said.
Magistrate Haydn Stjernqvist conceded there were issues with visibility and the constraints of the manoeuvre that had to be performed.
“But it all amounts to anyone reasonably concluding that the correct decision would have been to wait it out for better weather,” he said.
In addition to the $1800 fine, Freckleton was charged $84.50 in court costs but no conviction was recorded against him for the offence.