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Inside fishermen's week of hell after getting lost at sea for five days during South Australian trip

An experienced fisherman stranded on an old wooden fishing boat in the Southern Ocean with a friend for five days has opened up about the ordeal. 

Tony Higgins, 57, and Derek Robinson, 48, 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 a 10-metre wooden-hulled fishing boat, named Margrel, when they started to experience engine trouble. 

Instead of becoming distressed, the pair ‘just tinkled along and made do’, contacting a friend to inform them their plans had changed and they would be diverting to nearby Kangaroo Island instead.

But two days later, after failing to make contact, a massive search operation was launched.

Despite growing fears for their survival, the men claim they were fine. 

‘We didn’t even know anyone was looking for us,’ Mr Higgins told 7News.

‘I didn’t ask to come get rescued. I knew exactly where we were.’ 








Tony Higgins (pictured) and Derek Robinson (right) went missing while travelling from South Australia's Coffin Bay near Port Lincoln to Goolwa on September 3

The duo were a day and 120km into their trip on a 10-metre wooden-hulled fishing boat, named Margrel, when they started to experience engine trouble

Tony Higgins (left), 57, and Derek Robinson (right), 48, went missing while travelling from South Australia’s Coffin Bay near Port Lincoln to Goolwa on September 3

Mr Higgins said he and Mr Robinson failed to notice any planes looking for the pair from Sunday to Wednesday, and the Investigator Strait was the only other boat they encountered. 

The former fisherman in the Gulf of Carpentaria said he never felt unsafe, despite the large swell on his journey and his deckie getting seasick. 

‘My deckie [Mr Robinson] hadn’t been doing this sort of stuff before, but after a while he saw how the boat was travelling and felt all right about it,’ he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

Mr Higgins had bought as a restoration project but insists it was seaworthy. 

He said they lost a blade off the propeller during the journey. 

‘You can probably see it yourself, so had to slow it down – half ribs, half speed and instead of doing seven to eight knots (about 13 km per hour), we were doing three,’ he said.

One of the propeller's three blades broke off the boat named Margrel (right) after hitting a turtle or submerged log - extending their journey from four to eight days

One of the propeller’s three blades broke off the boat named Margrel (right) after hitting a turtle or submerged log – extending their journey from four to eight days

Rescue crews feared the worst as the pair went missing for five days on their boat named Margrel (pictured) before being located by police on Thursday

Rescue crews feared the worst as the pair went missing for five days on their boat named Margrel (pictured) before being located by police on Thursday

The men were headed to Goolwa, from Coffin Bay near Port Lincoln, they told a friend they would try make it to Kangaroo Island after their engine failed but ended up in Salt Creek

The men were headed to Goolwa, from Coffin Bay near Port Lincoln, they told a friend they would try make it to Kangaroo Island after their engine failed but ended up in Salt Creek

‘It’s a very seaworthy boat — a very seaworthy vessel.’       

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 kilometres – 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 said he and Mr Robinson (pictured) failed to notice any planes looking for the pair from Sunday to Wednesday, and the Investigator Strait was the only other boat they encountered

Mr Higgins said he and Mr Robinson (pictured) failed to notice any planes looking for the pair from Sunday to Wednesday, and the Investigator Strait was the only other boat they encountered

The aerial search was called off on late on Wednesday due to rescue teams failing to find any sign of them. 

However, a call came through hours later informing rescuers the men managed to raise the alarm.

They somehow managed to contact their families and Victor Harbour police station to tell them they were still alive, despite not firing any flares or activating the boat’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). 

Margrel was then towed to Victor Harbor by police, and Mr Higgins remains on board the boat – moored off the Granite Island causeway – to ensure it does not sink. 

Mr Higgins was fined $1,000 for having an out-of-date EPIRB as well as old flares on board.

While he was appreciative for the efforts of the search teams and concern of the nation, he apologised for scarying everybody.

‘Sorry Australia,’ he told ABC Radio Adelaide.   

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