Zac Feeney, pictured with his girlfriend Jess. Zac was one of the seven men on board when the fishing vessel the Dianne capsized and sank.
Zac Feeney, pictured with his girlfriend Jess. Zac was one of the seven men on board when the fishing vessel the Dianne capsized and sank.

DIANNE TRAGEDY: Siblings fight for maritime reforms

JACKIE Perry never feared for her baby brother Zac Feeney's life while he was at sea.

He was a healthy, fit, young man, and a capable and experienced diver, and Ms Perry always thought her brother would be able to escape any situation while working on commercial fishing vessels.

But now she is haunted by the thought of Mr Feeney's last moments on board the fateful diving boat, the Dianne.

The sinking of the sea-cucumber diving vessel off the coast of Seventeen Seventy last year ended the lives of six men, Mr Feeney, 28, Adam Hoffman, 30, Ben Leahy, 45, Adam Bidner, 33, Chris Sammut, 34, and Eli Tonks, 33.

Not knowing how long Mr Feeney and the capable divers on board the Dianne fought for their lives on the night of October 16 last year is hard for Ms Perry and her family to come to terms with.

The fact authorities only found out about the the vessel's sinking because of Ruben McDornan's miracle escape and rescue also weighs heavy on Ms Perry's heart.

Now Ms Perry and her older brother Joel Feeney are campaigning for a swag of changes to the commercial fishing industry in a bid to make sure no family knows the pain they have felt in the past nine months.

The last time Ms Perry and many of Zac Feeney's family saw him was on her wedding day, September 17, 2016.

She said he was there with his girlfriend Jess, and the family were all so proud to see him so in love.

As a boy Mr Feeney was nicknamed "hairy legs" by his older siblings, for whom he caused strife because he was "a bit of a handful".

The family of five had an idyllic upbringing, and they lived for and by the ocean.

 

REST EASY: Zac Feeney, who was one of the crewmen of the Dianne, pictured with family.
REST EASY: Zac Feeney, who was one of the crewmen of the Dianne, pictured with family.

Childhood was spent snorkelling and swimming, and the boys later learned to dive with their pearl-diving father Mark.

"We were very blessed to have the childhood we had, camping, four-wheel-driving, bare feet in the red dirt ... you could've called us free-range kids," Ms Perry said.

She said Mr Feeney did not excel in high school, and it was not until he was about 21 when he moved to Broome to work on fishing vessels that he grew.

"It was then that he blossomed into the most capable, modest and funny and quirky young man," she said.

"He was one of a kind, he really was."

On October 16 the family will travel from around Australia to Agnes Water, to commemorate one year since Mr Feeney died.

The bodies of Mr Hoffman and Mr Leahy'were the only ones found in the vessel by police divers.

"We've all lost young men who were lovable, popular and so friendly," Ms Perry said.

"Nine months down the track and we still don't know what's happened."

 

Zac Feeney was one of the seven men on board the Dianne fishing vessel when it capsized off the coast of Agnes Water in October last year.
Zac Feeney was one of the seven men on board the Dianne fishing vessel when it capsized off the coast of Agnes Water in October last year.

Driven by their grief and heartache, Ms Perry and her older brother Joel are campaigning for the Vessel Monitoring System, a transmitter commercial fishermen are required to carry, to be used for safety.

The transmitter is used to track commercial fishing vessels, in particular to ensure they do not enter green zones.

When the Dianne capsized, its VMS signal was lost.

It's estimated the vessel sank five and a half hours later. The family said authorities would have had a window of opportunity to rescue the fishermen if the VMS signal was used as a safety mechanism.

"Our family has done this on everyone's behalf who have lost a loved one at sea," Ms Perry said.

"We knew the boys out there would have thought this isn't good enough."

 

 

The MV Dianne at the Bundaberg Port Marina.
The MV Dianne at the Bundaberg Port Marina. Mike Knott BUN210218DIANNE4

Ms Perry and Joel Feeney sent a 42-page report to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in March recommending a safety overhaul of the commercial fishing industry.

They pointed to an incident involving a prawn trawler, The Returner, which sank off the Pilbara coast in 2015.

Like the Dianne, authorities were able to find The Returner using the VMS.

"It's unthinkable that we don't have a tracking device for vessels that is used as a safety measure,

whether it be mandated and run by the AMSA, or to avoid the possibility of liability to the Government, by privatising the technology and putting the onus back onto the skipper or owner," she wrote.

The family's campaign was given an extra push recently, after the their story and Mr McDornan's escape was shared on a special on 60 Minutes.

She said some departments were considering a feasibility study into tracking technology and how it could be used to increase safety.

Alternatively, an app could be created by the private sector.

Nine months since the tragedy which shocked the nation, the family struggles to come to terms with the loss of their son, brother and boyfriend.

During their visit to Agnes Water later this year, Ms Perry said the family would have a service to commemorate Mr Feeney's life.

She said once the family had a death certificate they would have a more public service at Geraldton.

"I always knew how lucky I was to be in the Feeney family," she said.

"But this has really welded us together, it's like the love that he left behind has cemented us together into this really strong unit.

"We know how short, precious and fleeting life is."

Now for the first time in her life Ms Perry, married with three children, is far away from the ocean. She moved to inland regional NSW a month before the Dianne sinking.

"I'm definitely angry at her, but I also still have a very deep love for the ocean and in time I hope it'll be my happy place again, because it always was."

Dianne tragedy leads to changes to safety at sea

TRAGIC incidents including the sinking of the Dianne prompted the fast-tracking of Australia's peak maritime body's changes to safety equipment on fishing vessels.

In July this year Australian Maritime Safety Authority took on the delivery of the National System for Domestic Commercial Vessel Safety, which was previously delegated to state and territory maritime agencies.

The take over led to the roll out of float-free emergency position indicating radio beacons on board commercial vessels.

An AMSA spokesperson said the authority is also working closely with owners and operators of commercial vessels to identify and mitigate safety risks through safety management systems.

"This change to safety requirements is in response to a number of tragic incidents, including the Dianne, in which commercial vessels sank quickly and the master and crew were not able to deploy their EPIRBs in time," they said.

"AMSA was aware of the benefits that carriage of a float-free EPIRB could provide and was progressing a proposal in August 2017 to require more domestic commercial vessels to carry a float-free EPIRB.

"This tragic loss of life (on board the Dianne) and the campaigning of family members certainly prompted AMSA to fast-track this proposal."

The spokesperson said while the float-free EPIRBs were an important, lifesaving device, they should be one of several crucial equipment that enhance safety at sea.

They said AMSA has also implemented changes to ensure all vessels comply with the most up to date safety requirements.

The spokesperson said while AMSA was not opposed to using VMS to augment existing distress systems, decisions around how the transmission system is monitored is the responsibility of federal, state and territory fisheries.


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