On Friday October 12, 1973 Blythe Star left Hobart for King Island with a cargo of fertiliser and beer. Fourteen hours later, it sank without warning. Its crew of ten made it into a life raft, destined to drift for eight days around southern Tasmania. The Second Engineer died after four days; the Chief Engineer and First Officer died within hours of the raft making landfall on the Forestier Peninsula. The official inquiry concluded that the Chief Engineer had pumped water out of a ballast tank, though all the evidence presented pointed to the tanks being empty throughout the voyage.
Blythe Star’s plight sprang from the Tasmanian Transport Commission’s laissez-faire approach to management. On an earlier voyage with empty tanks the ship almost capsized, but no lessons from the incident seem to have been learned, or passed on to those who needed to know.
The Blythe Star Tragedy tells the odyssey of the crewmen during the most awful days of their lives, and the Court of Marine Inquiry whose controversial findings satisfied no-one. It examines the Commission’s management of its ships and concludes the tragedy which cost three men their lives was inevitable and preventable.