Boat on the banks of the Fitzroy.
Boat on the banks of the Fitzroy.

Boat owner faces $35,000 bill for Fitzroy River ‘wreck’

A WANDAL man who purchased a derelict boat that is floating in the Fitzroy River to sell for scrap is facing a $35,000 bill from Maritime Queensland if he fails to remove the boat from Central Queensland waters.

Maritime Queensland took Neville Bruce Ratcliffe, to court last week, along with another boat owner and a pontoon owner, in an effort to get court orders that would force the removal of the unseaworthy and hazardous structures from Queensland waters.

The matters were heard in Rockhampton District Court with parties appearing by phone due to COVID-19 social distancing rules.

The vessel, believed to be the one photographed by The Morning Bul letin photographer Allan Reinikka last week, has been deemed unseaworthy and an obstruction to navigation.

It is also believed to be the same vessel which sank in the Fitzroy River in September 2015, which The Bulletin captured on video.

Judge Michael Burnett said photographs tendered by Maritime Queensland showed the boat owned by Mr Ratcliffe was "a wreck".

Mr Ratcliffe said he purchased the vessel from a man in Depot Hill who had removed the steering wheel since Christmas.

He said it needed to be towed, due to the lack of steering wheel, across the Fitzroy River to the slip when there was space for it to sit.

Mr Ratcliffe claimed he had organised this on one occasion with a man nicknamed "Popeye", but the barrage was opened, making the conditions in the river unsafe to move the vessel.

He said Popeye had since left town.

Mr Ratcliffe, who was receiving Centrelink benefits, claimed financial stress due to paying for three funerals last year.

The court heard Mr Ratcliffe had been contacted multiple times by state government employees about removing the boat, which had its port holes stripped at one point, and Mr Ratcliffe place a tarp over it.

The vessel is tied to a tree downstream from the Lakes Creek abattoir, straight across from the slipway.

Judge Burnett said there was no reason why the boat could not have been moved in the past 12 months with the barrage having been opened on a handful of occasions.

He ordered Mr Ratcliffe to do a written towing and slip plan, send it to the Gladstone Harbour Master for review and approval, then arrange the vessel to be moved before the next court date in July 14.

The court heard if the vessel had not been removed by then, Judge Burnett would make a default order which would result in Mr Ratcliffe paying Maritime Queensland $35,000 to remove the vessel.

The figure was based on an assessment and quote by an expert in derelict vessel action plans, with assessment outlining that if the vessel were to break up during towing, it could result in toxins and asbestos being released into the river.

The boat had been subject to removal orders since December 2018 - before Mr Ratcliffe purchased it almost a year ago - and Mr Ratcliffe claimed the previous owner did not tell him about those orders.