Fire destroys Ballina trawler

NIGHTMARE: Ballina-registered trawler Jabren, skippered by Tony Puglisi (inset), well alight off Mermaid Beach on Monday night.
NIGHTMARE: Ballina-registered trawler Jabren, skippered by Tony Puglisi (inset), well alight off Mermaid Beach on Monday night. Steven Pomasvmr Gold Coast

THE Ballina trawler fleet has lost another vessel after an engine-room fire claimed the 16m Jabren while it was fishing east of Mermaid Beach.

Skipper Tony Puglisi, 63, and his deckhand were working the trawler four nautical miles offshore of the Gold Coast when they discovered smoke about 6pm.

When Mr Puglisi opened the engine-room hatch he was engulfed by smoke.

"He has then alerted his deckhand and by that stage flames were coming out of the engine bay and they made the decision to abandon ship," Gold Coast Water Police's Sergeant Tony Nelson said.

Sgt Nelson said the pair jumped into a dinghy before raising the alarm with water police and Volunteer Marine Rescue.

Skipper Tony Puglisi pictured at the Ballina boat harbour.
Skipper Tony Puglisi pictured at the Ballina boat harbour. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

"When police arrived the dinghy with the two men had drifted a short distance from the burning vessel so they lit a flare to show us where they were," he said.

Along with rescue flares the pair had with them the trawler's EPIRB satellite locating device.

"They were then recovered from the dinghy suffering smoke inhalation ... and taken back to Water Police where they were transported to Gold Coast Hospital to be checked out," Sgt Nelson said.

The Volunteer Marine Rescue crew attempted to extinguish the blaze but were unable to contain it.

"The VMR vessel did use some pumping equipment to try and quell the fire but unfortunately it was burning far too hot and the flames were too big for them to get close enough," Sgt Nelson said.

"There are some issues fighting a fire like this because we can't risk the vessels or crews by getting too close.

"There were no significant explosion problems but we still (had) to monitor it."

Queensland Fire and Rescue Service crews were also taken out to the trawler on a Coast Guard boat to attempt to bring the fire under control but made the decision to let the boat burn out on its own. The remains of the boat sank at sea.

VMR crewman Steve Pomas said the trawler went down "very suddenly".

Mr Puglisi's family had been operating the Jabren out of Tweed Heads for several years, declaring the Ballina bar too unpredictable for regular fishing.

Mr Puglisi's son Brendan operates another timber sharpie-style trawler, the Markane, which was previously part of the family's fleet. It is also berthed at Tweed.

While the family markets a portion of their catch through Northern Rivers Seafood, the remainder is sold through Ballina Fishermen's Co-op.

Mr Puglisi hails from a family of Australian fishing pioneers.

Topics:  fishing

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