A Darwin deckhand who was found floating dead in the water beside the barge he lived and worked on had a blood alcohol level more than five times the legal driving limit, the Northern Territory coroner has heard.
Daniel Bradshaw’s workmates found the 37-year-old’s body floating in the water between the barge and a concrete wharf wall at Hudson Creek near East Arm on the morning of January 8, 2017.
Engineer Craig Kroemer said when a group of the crew members had returned to the barge after a couple of drinks out in Darwin, Mr Bradshaw stayed on land to drink more, because the barge had a no-drinking policy on board.
“I suggested he come to the boat to drink because I thought it was safer than drinking and trying to get back on the boat,” Craig Kroemer told the coroner.
NT coroner Greg Cavenagh was told by witnesses that Mr Bradshaw had a moderate amount of alcohol and did not appear drunk, but his blood alcohol level was 0.28 per cent.
“I find it hard to believe he got that blood alcohol level on three or four long necks — it’s a mystery, ” Mr Cavenagh said to Mr Kroemer.
Ben Floyd, a manager at the Barge Express company which owns the vessel, told the coroner an investigation he carried out at the scene uncovered 14 longneck bottles in a bin at the dockyard.
‘Major blunt force trauma to the chest’
Mr Bradshaw drowned, but also had injuries that were consistent with falling from a height and onto a hard surface, forensic pathologist John Rutherford told the court.
The expert said Mr Bradshaw suffered blunt-force trauma to the chest, causing many broken ribs and a fractured vertebrae at the top of the chest.
The police officer investigating the case for the coroner, Detective Senior Constable Tanja Ward, told the court there was no CCTV, no witnesses and that the exact cause of his death was unknown.
She said there were four possible explanations: that Mr Bradshaw fell into the water while disembarking or embarking the vessel, that he may have tripped on a water pipe in the dark, or that he was sitting on the edge of the wharf and dozed off, slipping into the water.
The barge had docked at the wharf on Saturday afternoon and instead of using a gangway to gain access to and from the wharf wall, the crew jumped across, using a tyre and rope to help climb to the top.
“No one on the boat considered it necessary to put in place a gangway,” Mr Currie said in his opening statement.
That was despite the safety manual stating a gangway “with rail, safety net and appropriate lighting” must be rigged to secure safe access to the ship.
Skipper Nicholas Mitchell told the coroner: “I’ve never seen a compliant gangway as long as I’ve worked there [at Hudson Creek]”.
Mr Floyd told the coroner that it was not expected of the crew to use a gangway all of the time because changes in the tide meant it would need to be erected and removed every few hours.
The manager also said he thought it was safe enough to step across without a gangway when the tide was high.
Family calls for more action
Mr Bradshaw’s widow, Tanya Louth, said outside the court she wanted those in charge of safety management to be held accountable.
“I’m still grieving the death of Daniel, my adored partner of 16 years, he’s the father of my two beautiful young children,” Ms Louth said.
“We’re shocked, afraid and angered … we seek to make sense of it, to understand how it could’ve happened to make sure it just doesn’t happen again.
“I want to know who the people are who are responsible for the safety down at Hudson Creek wharf — who are these people who claim they are keeping them safe, ensuring they come home to their families.”
Ms Louth was supported by the NT Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia which is repeating its calls for industrial manslaughter laws to be introduced.
“It would deter employers from being dishonest and fake about safety, it should be the same as wages or super that is stolen by an employer, they should go to jail for it,” MUA branch secretary Thomas Mayor said.
“If a worker is killed through negligence of an employer they should go to jail for it, it’s that simple.”