Water police urge caution after tragic deaths

Family of the three missing West Sunshine men during the search. Photo: Joe Armao

Water police have urged people to learn from the boating tragedy that claimed the lives of three fishermen.

On Monday afternoon, the mood was bleak at Altona boat ramp as news trickled in that a third body had been found after the three men went missing on Sunday.

Steven Do, 30, his brother David, 31, and their friend, Phong Nguyen, 35, all from Sunshine West, had launched their tinny from Altona about 11am on Sunday.

Senior Sergeant Mark O’Rourke said the trio bought their small aluminium punt five months ago and were inexperienced.

“I think, essentially, it’s just they’ve gone out in really ordinary conditions in a boat that wasn’t suitable in those conditions,” he said. “This time of year, your timeframe for survival in the water, being 13 degrees, is not very long.”

Seaholme Boat Owners Association member Ramon Harris described Sunday’s conditions on the bay as “treacherous”.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Dean Stewart said the average wind speed was about 30 knots, or 55km/h, and waves would have been up to 1.5 metres overnight.

It was not until a fisherman spotted the trio’s upturned boat about 4pm on Sunday that the men’s family members and police realised something was amiss.

Four Coast Guard boats, a police boat, a helicopter and search and rescue squad divers trawled a 120-square-nautical-mile area for the three men, while family members kept a vigil at Altona boat ramp.

Julie Lieu, the girlfriend of Steven Do, said the men “always enjoyed fishing” together.

“Life isn’t meant to be fair,” she said.

One man’s body was found about 10am on Monday, nine kilometres south-east of where the upturned boat was found. The body of the second fisherman was found about two hours later, about four kilometres south of the first.

The third body was located about 2.30pm, about a kilometre north of where the second body was located. According to police, the men were wearing lifejackets.

Senior Sergeant O’Rourke said there were no restrictions on that type of boat being in the bay, but this one had been more suited to inland waterways. He said there were a number of things peole could learn from the tragedy: use a suitable vessel for the conditions, be aware of your boating and swimming capabilities, and wait for favourable bay conditions.

“Make sure you have all the correct safety equipment and you know how to use it, in particular, PFDs, which are personal flotation devices, lifejackets.

“Let people know where you’re going and, again, have a plan in place in case something goes wrong so you can self-rescue and be able to survive.”

–with The Age