Deckhand questioned after burning trawler sinks yacht

AS toxic smoke billowed from the burning longliner the Kim Ocean, Amy Reko stepped off a nearby yacht she was staying on and called triple-0.

It was by chance that her friend's luxury 48-foot yacht, the Owl and the Pussycat was moored behind the Coffs Harbour Fishermen's Co-op.

The yacht's skipper, Deano Gillespie, had just purchased the vessel from Sydney and was on his maiden voyage to Tweed Heads when a strong southerly forced him to take shelter in the harbour.

He remained on the vessel as the nearby trawler exploded into flames early yesterday.

"It was just surreal. As the firefighters tried to put the flames out the trawler broke from its mooring and began arcing around the harbour and crashed straight into the yacht," Ms Reko said.

"I could only watch as Deano dived overboard; he was just so lucky.

"The boat ended up on top of the yacht and with the motor still running pushed it across to the other side of the marina. I couldn't believe my eyes.

Coffs Harbour Fire Station Officer Mark Rose said firefighters were on board the burning boat when flames engulfed the electrical wiring and apparently caused the engine to start automatically.

"Firefighter Tim George was on the boat with a hose and was starting to make headway on the fire," Mark said.

"Fortunately when the motor powered up to full throttle he lept off and grabbed a chain wire as the boat broke from its bow line, spun out of control and ploughed into the yacht. It was absolute carnage."

In a turn of good fortune, the burning wreckage spun away from multi-million dollar vessels moored in the marina and crashed into the southern inner wall.

As insurers yesterday valued the damage at half-a-million dollars, the fire-damaged trawler sat mounted on top of the sunken yacht.

As the salvage was planned, just the mast of the yacht was visible.

"We are treating this fire as suspicious," Coffs Harbour Water Police Sergeant Don Stewart said.

Police said crew members of the Southport-based fishing trawler have been questioned.

Reports indicate a deck hand hindered fire crews from extinguishing the blaze.

He ended up in hospital after he was assaulted by other crew members at the scene.

The incident was captured by Customs and the Co-op security cameras and police say the footage will offer vital evidence to the investigation.

Topics:  coffs editors picks fire fishing trawler

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