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'Ghost ship' Deaths an Accident

By Val Ellis last modified Aug 10, 2008 09:00 AM

Published: 2008-08-10 09:00:10
Countries: Australia

Three sailors who disappeared from a yacht later found empty and drifting off the coast of Australia died in a freak accident, an inquest found. The vessel, Kaz II, was found with its engine running, food on the table, and its full complement of lifebelts.

Derek Batten, 56, and brothers Peter and Jim Tunstead, in their 60s, left on an eight-week trip from Queensland to Western Australia in April last year. But their yacht was found adrift just three days later.

Various theories have been advanced to explain their mysterious disappearance. Some speculated they might have been kidnapped or murdered by pirates or drugs smugglers.

Others were simply mystified that the boat was discovered with its engine running and its lifebelts still on board, which seemed to rule out the possibility of them being drowned in a storm.

Choppy seas

Now, after a week-long inquest, a coroner in Queensland has ruled that the men lost their lives in a freak accident and suggested they drowned in an unfortunate sequence of events.

It started when one of the men fell in the water while trying to retrieve some fishing equipment that had become tangled around the rudder. Another sailor was lost overboard while trying to mount a rescue. The coroner found that the third man, the skipper, tried to turn the boat around by adjusting the sails, but a change in wind direction caused the boom to swing round and knock him into the choppy seas.

None of the men were good swimmers, the coroner concluded, and they would have struggled and then been lost beneath the waves. He said the end would have been swift.

By Nick Bryant BBC News, Sydney