SKIPPER James Hicks climbed onto the roof of his vessel, Guiding Star, to look for his young Irish deckhand but a full can of beer, sitting upright, was the only evidence he had been there.
The 21-year-old Irishman had gone onto the roof to sunbake during the day and was planning on enjoying a drink while taking in the sunset. However, something happened and he never got to taste it.
Mr Hicks said he had hired the Irishman and his childhood mate in Mackay just four days before the man mysteriously disappeared on Friday evening. It is presumed he fell overboard and despite a large land, sea and air search it is feared he is dead.
“In the short time I had known him they had never drunk excessively,” Mr Hicks said.
“They had brought themselves two cartons to share before we got on board and they still had a dozen left on Friday night.
“There were certainly no drugs on board our boat. We work all night so there isn’t really that much time for a lot of drinking.
“However, early Friday, around 9am, we had a hydraulic breakdown so we decided to turn the boat around and come back to the mainland to get it repaired.
“So we gave the boys the day off and they headed straight for the roof to sunbake.
“We were only about 70 miles out from Mackay when we raised the alarm he was missing.
“At sunset I saw the boys taking photos on the bow of the boat at 5.30pm and I came back downstairs. His mate jumped on the computer in the cabin at 6.10pm. So give or take some time, I believe he went missing around 5.50pm.
“His mate told us he couldn’t find him and when he told John and I, we searched the whole boat. We then raised alarm bells and by that stage it was dark. With the engines running it’s noisy on board and we had the TV going, so there was no way we would have heard him if he was calling out.
“It was a very calm sea – I am talking about glass flat waters. I am very dumbfounded as to how he could have fallen overboard.
“If there were rough seas we wouldn’t have anybody up on the roof but because the water was calm, it was safe and we knew he was up there.
“We kept searching for him until about 3.30am on Saturday when police told us to come back to the harbour. This is how calm the water was – when we came back into the harbour I went up to the roof and his unopened can of beer was still in the spot where he had left it.
Mr Hicks, who also owns the Bundaberg-based boat, his twin brother, John, and the two backpackers were on board the boat for what was meant to be a 14-day fishing trip.
“I had to get rid of my last crew so I decided to leave my business card at a backpacking hostel in Mackay and within a couple of hours I had a phone call from the boys. They had just arrived in Mackay from Brisbane.
“So we met them and talked to them about the job and they took it, so we left Mackay that afternoon. This is the first time I have taken on backpackers.
“We had run them through the correct procedures on board and did the safety induction before we left Mackay.
“They were loving it – they had seen some whales and sharks and dolphins. They had even fed some sharks and dolphins.
“They were very smart men and for their ages they had a lot of brains. They caught on quiet fast and were doing very well at it. They were not lazy and keen to learn. We had actually offered them a job until the end of January and they had both accepted the offer.
“The boys seemed happy enough with each other. Put it this way – I don’t think he would have jumped into the water on purpose. He knew what was in that water.
“I have been in the industry for 30 years and nothing like this has happened to us before. If they don’t find him it will haunt us for the rest of our lives. I honestly hope, for the family’s sake and for ours, that they can find him alive. We really want closure.”
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