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Whaler tragedy

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Navy Public Relations.

190 1006



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Statement by the Minister for the Navy. .


The Minister for the Navy, Senator Gorton, announced

this afternoon that a senior Naval officer had left Canberra to

begin a preliminary investigation into the Navy whaler tragedy.

Senator Gorton said that the officer had gone to the

Whitsunday area to make an on-the-spot inquiry into all aspects

of the mishap. The officer, Captain J.S. Mesley, would visit

Hayman Island and H.M.A.S. SYDNEY.

A full Board of Inquiry would be held as soon as

possible. The setting up of such a Board of Inquiry was automatic,

and its establishment was not to be taken as casting any reflection

on the experienced and able officers in charge of the training


Speaking in the Senate, Senator Gorton said "As far

as I am concerned, this Board of Inquiry will·undoubtedly be held

in public."

In his statement to the Senate, Senator Gorton said:-

"I wish to take the opportunity to place before the

Senate a factual account, so far as it is at present known of this

affair and to indicate what is now happening and what it is

proposed will happen in the future. -

"A party of five midshipmen left H.M.A.S. "SYDNEY", last .

Thursday morning with the object of circumnavigating Hook and

Hayman·Islands. The object of this training exercise was to give

them further experience in small boat handlings, which is ah

essential accomplishment of seamen officers. This exercise had

been going on for some time with different crews, and three

previous similar exercises of the same kina had been carried

out on the three previous.days before the exercise on which the

tragedy/ occurred. .

. "On the three previous occasions, and on the occasion

we are discussing, the weather is reported by the Navy on the

spot to have been similar, with winds ranging from 15 to 25 knots

and moderate seas. On two previous occasions boats were unable

to return to H.M.A.S. "SYDNEY" by nightfall because of the tide

but this had been anticipated and the crews had been told to

spend the night camped ashore if necessary. It is understood

that one crew' spent the night on Hayman Island and the other on .

Hook Island. On each of these occasions a motor cutter went

out from H.M.A.S. "SYDNEY" as a safety precaution to investigate

the whereabouts of the crev/s.

"On the fourth occasion the ill-fated whaler left

H.M.A.S. "SYDNEY" at 5a.m. She was last seen at 8.20a.m. by

the crew of a whaler which was returning from the previous day’s

exercise, who spoke with her, gave indications of sea conditions

ahead and who reported her sailing well in moderate conditions,

"lien the whaler failed to return on Thursday evening a motor

cutter left H.M.A.S. "SYDNEY" as on previous occasions but

could find no sign of the boat. In the early hours of Friday

morning it called at Hayman Island to inquire if the boat had

been sighted from there. The crew of the cutter was then told·

that late on the previous afternoon a boat from the island had "

set out to investigate a report from a visitor to.the island of . .

an object which"could have been an upturned boat with three

people surrounding it.

"The island boat', however, had mechanical trouble

soon after sotting out and did not, in fact, carry out the

•investigation. As soon as the cutter’s crew inquired about the

missing whaler the island boat set out again while the cutter

returned to H.M.A.S. "SYDNEY" to report the situation'.

"The cutter reached H.M.A.S. "SYDNEY" .at 5a.m. and

a comprehensive search was under way an hour later. H.M.A.S. .

"ANZAC" was sent tc search' to the east of Hook Island while

H.M.A.S. "SYDNEY" and the island boat searched to the.north-west

of Hayman Island. The Royal Australian Air Force was asked to

co-operate-in the search and the first Neptune maritime aircraft

was on task by 10a.m.

"The whaler was not found until yesterday afternoon

in circumstances which the Senate will know. These are all

'that are known of the facts up to the present.

"I should like to conclude, Mr. President, by stating

that these young man are the finest types of young Australians

and the nation can ill spare them. Their loss to their

families must be infinitely greater. All we can do is to

express to those families the greatest sympathy and admiration

for the men whom they have lost." '


Canberra. 22nd October, 1963·