Tasmanian police are considering whether to charge a group of fishermen who abandoned their upturned boat and prompted a full-scale air, land and sea search on the east coast.
Four northern Tasmanian men swam to shore at St Helens on Wednesday morning without notifying police that their 3.5 metre tinny had taken on water and started sinking in Georges Bay.
Police were alerted to the unmanned boat by a member of the public, and they also found an esky of beer and a pair of rubber thongs floating nearby.
Inspector Michael Johnston said officers believed a fishing trip had ended in tragedy, and deployed significant resources to search for the fishermen.
“That was utilising a number of vessels from the Volunteer Marine Rescue, police vessels, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, and the Police Vessel Van Diemen was re-tasked to attend the area to provide a diving capability,” he said.
“We also had crews on the ground checking camping areas and boat ramps to try and identify a vehicle or trailer that was missing a boat to ascertain who might be missing.”
Several hours later, police discovered the men had left the boat safely and had gone snorkelling.
“They’ve indicated the vessel was probably overloaded, that the water was a bit rough and a wave broke over the top of the vessel and swamped it and they were unable to continue underway, so they swam to shore,” Inspector Johnston said.
“The main disappointment is those resources were committed to something that they didn’t need to be committed to.
“Had there have been a genuine emergency somewhere else they would’ve been unavailable to deploy to that.”
Police are considering whether the men committed a crime in not reporting the incident.
“I’m not aware of any specific issues where we’ve prosecuted people for that sort of thing, but there’s considerable risk in leaving that vessel capsized in the water to other users of the bay,” Inspector Johnston said.
“We do need to look at it on this occasion and if there are appropriate offences then we will lay charges.”