The WA coroner has ruled that the incident involving Damien Mark Mills, a Loan Market broker who drowned in 2014 during an industry event, was an accident which “may have been preventable”.
According to the coroner, Sarah Linton, 35-year-old Damien Mills was last seen alive on 31 October 2014, when he was a passenger on a charter boat trip organised by specialist lender Pepper.
The report states that Mr Mills had attended the event alone and reportedly did not know any of the other guests.
His wife reported him missing the following day (1 November) after he failed to return home. His body was found just after midday on that same day.
A forensic pathologist later concluded that Mr Mills’ death was consistent with drowning, and a coroner’s inquest was announced in September 2015 to explore the circumstances of his death.
At the inquest hearing, it was argued by police that Mr Mills “fell from the back of the charter boat somewhere between three and six nautical miles from the entrance of the [Fremantle] Fishing Boat Harbour on the Friday afternoon”.
The coroner accepted this conclusion, but stated that she was “unable to determine exactly when this event occurred” due to a lack of an eyewitness to the event.
Questions raised over reliability of headcounts
The case outlined that the return journey was affected by rougher conditions, with several people falling over.
The managing director of the charter company gave evidence that he had counted the passengers on and off the vessel as well as performed an additional headcount during the tour.
However, the coroner questioned whether a headcount had been undertaken at the end of the boat trip.
Coroner Linton stated: “If a proper process of headcounts had been done, with correct numbers taken at the start and end of the charter, it would have been noted that a passenger was missing and hopefully an investigation into the identity of the person, and a search for them, could have been started much sooner and perhaps saved a life.”
As such, the coroner concluded: “This was a particularly tragic case, involving the death of a hardworking father of a young family who went out for a simple day of socialising and networking as part of his business and never returned home. While his death was an accident, there was evidence that it may have been preventable if his disappearance had been identified sooner.
“The evidence underscored the need for simple processes, such as performing careful and orderly headcounts and supervising passengers properly while on board, to be undertaken by the crew of charter boats to ensure the safety of their passengers. If that had been done in this case, the deceased might still be alive today.”
Headcounts to be promoted as a safety measure
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has reportedly said that it has “understood the safety issues raised by the death of the deceased” and it is its intention that “steps will be taken” within the National Law framework to “promote headcounts as a safety measure”.
The coroner continued: “It is also important that AMSA do its best to ensure that safety systems implemented are duly carried out by operators with care and diligence.
“The knowledge gained from the tragic outcome of this case must form part of the safety message for the future, with the aim of ensuring that similar deaths are prevented.”
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