A fisherman who sparked a statewide four-day search after he went missing on his boat has disappeared again just two weeks later.
Tony Higgins, 57, was moored near Granite Island off Victor Harbor, south of Adelaide, when he made a distress call to police around 5am on Tuesday.
Mr. Higgins said his wooden fishing boat Margrel was ‘taking on water’ and police have now launched another search operation with a rescue helicopter and Sea Rescue volunteers.
Rough conditions on Tuesday forced rescue boats to return to shore.
The fisherman and his friend Derek Robinson, 48, sparked South Australia’s largest maritime search in history when they went missing while travelling from South Australia’s Coffin Bay near Port Lincoln to Goolwa on September 3.
The duo were a day into their trip on the 10-metre wooden-hulled fishing boat when they started to experience engine trouble.
They were eventually found on September 10, just hours after the search operation was called off. Despite missing for nearly a week, Mr. Higgins claimed he had no idea about the rescue mission.
‘We didn’t even know anyone was looking for us,’ Mr. Higgins earlier told MM. ‘I didn’t ask to come get rescued. I knew exactly where we were.’
He believes the trouble was sparked when one of the propeller’s three blades broke off after hitting a turtle or submerged log.
The massive search operation – covering more than 120,000 square kilometers – involved police, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and members of the Royal Australian Air Force.
It also involved Kangaroo Island and Volunteer Marine Rescue members. Crews spent days searching an area larger than Tasmania covered in an attempt to find the men.
Fears were raised when the men were not located after several weather warnings and days of treacherous conditions.
Mr. Higgins was fined $1,000 for having an out-of-date Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), as well as old flares on board and not having an appropriate recreational boat license.
Gary Juleff, a freelance video journalist told the ABC when police arrived on Tuesday morning following the distress call, the boat had vanished.
‘When I got down here, nobody could see the boat,’ Mr Juleff said. ‘(Police) tried to phone him back – no answer – so the answer to this question is ‘nobody knows. They said there’s nothing out there and we don’t know where he is.’
Over the weekend, Mr. Higgins found himself in trouble again when the Margrel ran aground on a sandbar in Victor Harbor.
The rescue mission is ongoing. Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said a second search party for the vessel was ‘frustrating’ for authorities.
‘I think it’s fair to say there’s an element of frustration that the state’s resources are being dedicated to this for a second time,’ he said. ‘The first event cost us in the order of about $650,000.’