21 Dec 2022

Man survives 20-hour ordeal lost in treacherous Torres Strait seas clinging to debris

9:05 pm on 21 December 2022
The man was found seven nautical miles from his capsized boat clinging to flotsam.

The man was found seven nautical miles from his capsized boat clinging to flotsam. Photo: Supplied / Australian Maritime Safety Authority

By Brendan Mounter for the ABC

Queensland Police have described the rescue of a man lost at sea in treacherous conditions in the Torres Strait overnight as a "Christmas miracle".

The 31-year-old Warraber Island man survived the 20-hour ordeal by clinging to a piece of debris from his dinghy, which capsized after being hit by a wave near the midway point of his journey.

Senior Sergeant Anthony Moynihan, officer-in-charge of Thursday Island Station, said given the man was not carrying any safety equipment, it was a miracle he was found alive.

"It's incredible. It's one in a million," he said.

"To be floating in that water and knowing the creatures that are in there and to still be there some 20 hours later - he's an extremely lucky fella."

It is believed the man set out alone from Moa Island about 9:30am yesterday, bound for Warraber (Sue) Islet, which is a journey of about 60 kilometres.

About 11am, he contacted his family to update them of his progress but ultimately failed to arrive at his destination and was reported missing at 6pm.

A search by Queensland Water Police and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) started last night but was called off due to bad weather.

"It was blowing about 40 knots and was really blustery and stormy, so that hampered the search and rescue efforts," Senior Sergeant Moynihan said.

"We weren't able to use any helicopter assets last night because of the poor weather or any other assets like the volunteer marine rescue because of the poor conditions."

The search restarted at 6:30am today, involving water police vessels, the AMSA aircraft, Border Force helicopters and local volunteers.

The overturned dinghy was found about 10:30am, with the man eventually spotted a further seven nautical miles away floating on a piece of wood.

He was winched to safety by helicopter and is currently recovering at Thursday Island Hospital.

"He's in really good spirits and not suffering from any serious conditions," Senior Sergeant Moynihan said.

" … He's extremely lucky."

Despite the fortunate outcome, Senior Sergeant Moynihan said the man's ordeal should serve as a cautionary tale for all boaties to be adequately prepared.

"He had no safety equipment on board at all, no EPIRBs [emergency beacons], no flares," he said.

"That's the big message that we'd like to get across, if you are going out this Christmas, enjoy yourselves but just make sure you get enough safety equipment.

"Make sure you're advising people where you're going and what time frames you're going to be there so people can raise alarms if you don't actually arrive."