WITNESS: The inquest into the FV Cassandra and Dianne tragedies began at the Coronal Court at Gladstone on Tuesday. Pictured, former owner, deckhand and manager of Cassandra Dennis Markwell (left), owner of Paddockmist (company that bought Cassandra) Rob Passmore and Barry Erhke were called to give evidence.
WITNESS: The inquest into the FV Cassandra and Dianne tragedies began at the Coronal Court at Gladstone on Tuesday. Pictured, former owner, deckhand and manager of Cassandra Dennis Markwell (left), owner of Paddockmist (company that bought Cassandra) Rob Passmore and Barry Erhke were called to give evidence. Mark Zita GLA190319INQUEST

New details emerge in tragic sunken vessel cases

SAFETY tests, training of crew and the refitting of a vessel were among issues raised at the joint inquest into two sunken Queensland vessels and the loss of eight crew members.

The inquest held at the Coroners Court at Gladstone yesterday shed new light into the tragic sinking of fishing vessels, Cassandra off the Fraser Coast on April 4, 2016, and Dianne off Seventeen Seventy on October 16, 2017 with several witnesses called to the stand.

Skipper Matthew Neil Roberts, 61, and crewman David Barry Chivers, 36, remain missing and it's suspected they also lost their lives in the sinking of Cassandra.

Both men were Bundaberg residents.

The bodies of Dianne skipper Benjamin Patrick Leahy, 45, and crewman Adam Ross Hoffman, 30, were found after the vessel capsized.

 

Day 1 of the coronial inquest in to the FV Cassandra tragedy.
Family and friends of vessel crewmen David Chivers and Matthew Roberts who died in the FV Cassandra sinking in 2016. Mark Zita GLA190319INQUEST

The remaining Dianne crew - Adam Jeffrey Bidner, 33, Zachary John Feeney, 28, Christopher David Sammut, 34 and Eli Davey Tonks, 39 - have never been found and the men are suspected to have died.

Ruben McDornan was the sole survivor and will be called as a witness at the inquest.

The first witness to be called was convicted murderer Stephen Armitage who appeared at the inquest via video from in custody.

Armitage was sentenced to life in prison for unrelated matters in 2015 after he was convicted of the torture and murder of a 33-year-old Gold Coast man.

Armitage, who had been in the commercial fishing industry told the court he was involved in the re-fitting of Cassandra, however did not have any formal qualifications in boat rigging or building.

Next to take the stand was Dennis Markwell, former owner of Cassandra, before he sold it to a company called Paddockmist and became its deckhand.

Paddockmist was trading as Markwell's Fisheries, a company owned by Dennis Markwell's cousin Warren Markwell and Rob Passmore.

 

Police are still deciding whether to send down divers to find the  sunken trawler Cassandra and its two fishermen. Photo: Contributed
Police are still deciding whether to send down divers to find the sunken trawler Cassandra and its two fishermen.

Mr Passmore gave evidence that after Dennis sold Cassandra, there was an "unwritten agreement" Dennis would oversee the management of the vessel, was in charge of any crew training needed and to ensure the boat met safety standards.

He said Dennis was paid $300 a week, given a car, fuel, mobile phone and out-of-pocket expenses to complete such tasks.

Dennis Markwell told the court he oversaw the re-fitting of the vessel, carried out by Armitage, but never alerted Maritime Safety Queensland to any changes on-board the vessel and did not complete any safety or stability tests following the refit.

Mr Passmore also gave evidence he could not recall being aware of these requirements.

Mr Markwell told the court he could not recall reading the Safety Management System documentation and assumed the crew were trained.

The court was told Mr Markwell did "induct" the crew to Cassandra in a fishing trip in November 2015 and showed Mr Roberts and Mr Chivers where equipment was located.

The court was told Mr Markwell could not recall informing the skipper, Mr Roberts, of the sea conditions to the eastern side of Fraser Island.

Mr Markwell told the court industry information was "shared, common knowledge", but Coroner David O'Connell noted Mr Markwell previously told authorities in his statement he knew Mr Roberts was not familiar with the area.

A report tendered by Barry Erhke, at the request of Maritime Safety Queensland, confirmed the "possibility of encountering unfriendly seas" in the area where Cassandra capsized.

Mr Passmore gave evidence as the owner of the vessel he never saw the SMS either.

Other issues raised during the inquest included the position of the life raft, which due to its location became entangled in "rigging" on the vessel and suspended in the air for a period of time during the incident.

Mr Markwell was also questioned about the security of loose items on board Cassandra and the works carried out to comply with MSQ standards.

Mr Markwell told the court a fridge was secured by a ceiling bracket and a freezer was secured using a "wedge".

The court was told further witnesses would be called today as the inquest continues.