Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Three sailors who vanished off the ghost ship Kaz II may have been involved in a 'scuffle' before they disappeared. On the first day of an inquest into the mystery which occured off the north Queensland coast, grieving family yesterday asked the state coroner to investigate the possibility of an onboard knife fight. Other explanations for the mystery included the possibility they were all knocked overboard by a swinging boom or that they ran aground on a sand bank. State Coroner Michael Barnes yesterday opened a five-day inquest in Townsville into the disappearance of skipper Derek 'Des' Batten, 56, and brothers, Peter and Jim Tunstead, 69 and 63 respectively in April last year. In an emotion-charged scene, the grieving wives of the three missing men hugged and sobbed openly as they visited the back deck of the 10.6m Osprey sailing catamaran berthed in a dry dock. The newly bought yacht was found off Bowen on April 18 adrift, unmanned and under sail, with food still on the table, but no sign of the three men. They had embarked two days earlier on an ambitious attempt to sail from Airlie Beach to Perth in a six to eight-week journey. An extensive air and sea search involving up to 10 aircraft was called off after experts ruled out any chance the men would have survived in the water.
Kaz II discovered drifting.About 15 family members made the trip from Western Australia for the inquest. Counsel assisting the coroner Julie Wilson likened the case to the enduring mystery of the Marie Celeste, saying many theories abounded as to their fate. These included a misadventure or accident at sea; a possible raid by an unknown third party; a midnight swim with the boat sailing off; and the possibility the men staged their own disappearance. The Marie Celeste, the archetypal ghost ship, was a brigantine discovered unmanned and under sail in the Atlantic Ocean in the 1800s. Francis Tunstead, wife of Peter, asked the coroner to investigate signs of a 'scuffle'. She said the helicopter rescue paramedic who was first onboard told of 'signs of a scuffle' and 'knives on the floor' immediately after he was winched back into the chopper. But police did not take fingerprint samples of the cabin interior or any other forensic tests, she said. 'It is something I want to know for my own heart,' she said. She believed that police did little more than to identify the three men by looking through their wallets and that they assumed they had all been lost overboard in a freak accident. The inquest continues.