by Rob Kothe
A coronial inquest into the disappearance of three West Australian sailors in mysterious circumstances on the Great Barrier Reef in northern Queensland, begins in Townsville today.
Kaz II with her fenders out.
There has been no sign of skipper Derek Batten and brothers Peter and James Tunstead, all from Perth, since their 9.8 metre catamaran Kaz II was found adrift 100 miles north-east of Townsville on April 18 2007, five days after they left Airlie Beach's Shute Harbour headed for Perth.
When their yacht was boarded the boat’s diesel motor was still running, in neutral, the cabin lights were on,the fenders were out, navigation computers were still running, food was on the table, safety equipment, including the liferaft and liferings was still on board and there was no indication of how the men disappeared.
There were parallels to the famous case of Mary Celeste in 1872 and there have been lots of theories on what happen to the three sailors from the Ghost Ship Kaz II.
Initially the Police theorised they had been swept off the boat in strong seas. It proved difficult to explain why dry clothes were in the cockpit. The police did not repeat that one. Knocked off the boat by a swinging boom. The forensic examination of the boat did not support that either.
Hijacked by drug runners, after witnessing an exchange. The fenders indicate the boat had prepared for a friendly boarding party. But there is no evidence other than that.
The last theory seems tragically the most likely. Perhaps Kaz II had run around on a tidal sandbar and the three sailors got off to push? Did a gust of wind power her away, leaving them to drown as the five metre tidal surge swept them south?
It seems we will never know, but the coronial inquest is sure to throw up lots more evidence.
The authorities stopped searching with a few days. However nine family members, sons and nephews of the missing men, continued to look, spending tens of thousands of dollars hiring planes, helicopters and boats to scour nearby islands.
At the time family spokesman Glenn Tunstead today said the family felt a 'sense of failure' at not being able to locate the men.
'It was very emotional for everybody involved,' he told ABC Radio. ‘There was a sense of failure, (but) on the other hand it was a sense of they did everything they possibly could, and we didn't achieve the outcome that we wanted.
'It's still very, very tough for the family.'
The inquest into the disappearance of 56-year-old skipper Derek Batten, 63-year-old brother James Tunstead and his 69-year-old brother Peter Tunstead is expected to run for at least a week.