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Captain convicted for falling asleep at the wheel

12 September 2012

The skipper of a fishing vessel that almost sank after hitting a reef has been convicted after admitting falling asleep at the wheel.

Steven Sarunic (46 yrs) formerly of Port Lincoln, was charged with operating without due care following the incident that caused over $100,000 damage to the fishing boat Christina S.

Sarunic was captaining the 24-metre ocean going vessel when it ran aground on a reef off Hopkins Island, three hours after departing Port Lincoln on a commercial fishing trip.

The heavily damaged vessel was re-floated by Sarunic and made headway back to Port Lincoln with its pumps working overtime as water flooded the vessel.

It later had to be towed.

There were five other crew members on board the vessel at the time. Fortunately no-one suffered any lasting physical injuries.  

Sarunic pleaded guilty to the charge. In his interview with investigators from the department he admitted falling asleep at the wheel at the time of the grounding.

On 10 Sept 2012 he was convicted in the Port Lincoln Magistrates’ Court by Mr P Foley S.M. and fined $400 plus a total of $302 additional costs.

His certificate of competency to operate a vessel was cancelled and he was disqualified from obtaining a further certificate for four months.

During the investigation one crew member speculated that Sarunic had been asleep for between 30 minutes to an hour.

He was also using his auto pilot, a practice questionable when so close to land and with conditions at the time.