Firefighters work to extinguish smouldering timber in a boat engulfed by flames at the Coffs Harbour marina.
Firefighters work to extinguish smouldering timber in a boat engulfed by flames at the Coffs Harbour marina.

Skipper fires up to sue

STEVE Munday reckons quitting smoking 35 years ago saved his life – yesterday.

With his sense of smell now sharper than ever, the boat skipper awoke from a deep sleep to combat a fire on board the vessel he had earlier brought into Coffs Harbour's public wharf.

“My eyes were stinging, there was smoke every-where, I was coughing, I just knew instantly there was a fire onboard,” the former professional fisher said.

“I’ve now got a sensitive nose after giving up smoking a long time ago.

“I guess I was lucky, I haven’t really had time to think about it all yet because I’ve been so annoyed about what happened after I noticed the fire.”

‘What happened’ is the fire was able to escalate because equipment failed.

Mr Munday is also a trained NSW Rural Fire Service fighter so he knew what he was supposed to do but when he sprang into action locating a fire hydrant on the public wharf, the trouble began.

“I ran back and turned on the hydrant and the hose blew off!” he said. “If that fire hydrant had have been working I would have put the fire out.

“I could have saved this boat had that hose not been missing a lousy $2 hose clamp. It was slackness on someone’s part not maintaining something so important.”

Panicked by the escalating fire, he was without water and a means of smothering the flames.

“I closed up all the windows and tried to smother it but there was nothing I could do,” he said.

A nearby trawler fisherman, making an early start to the day, spotted the fire and called 000.

Coffs Harbour-based firefighters attended and did all they could to save the former fishing trawler, which has been converted into a motor cruiser.

Mr Munday, a professional skipper based near South West Rocks, only picked up the vessel at Evans Heads on Thursday.

He was ferrying the uninsured 30-year-old boat to its new owner at Lake Macquarie, who had paid $20,000 for the purchase.

“When I pulled in and walked up the wharf I smelt a timbery-type smell, but I couldn’t see anything, there was nothing obvious.

“Inside that vessel there’s an exhaust fan that pushes out the heat from the engine room.

“With a strong nor-easterly wind blowing on Thursday, maybe that heat couldn’t escape and eventually sparked the fire, but I don’t know for sure.”

Fire and police investigators also made note of the fact that other water taps on the wharf can only be turned on using a specially issued three-pronged key.

“It’s a major concern that the fire hydrant on the wharf was not working effectively, and it has taken a fire to find this out,” Coffs Harbour NSW Fire Brigade Station Officer Sam Walker said.

Checks with marina lease-holders yesterday revealed State Government department the Lands and Property Management Authority is responsible for the provision and upkeep of the fire hydrant.

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