On the 4th October 2018 at around 10.41am a young man died due to a sea snake bite while working on prawn trawler in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
At 8.20am the young man was ensuring the nets were folding correctly into the sorting tray when the Master observed him shake his hand as if in pain. The victim said he had been bitten on the finger by a snake.
The Master observed what he believed was either a black banded or elegant sea snake which he removed from the net and through over the side. He then made a call to another vessel and then the Royal Flying Doctor at 8.23am.
From here on is the critical part in regard to any snake bite, but especially when in remote areas such as in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The Master told the victim to take a shower then go to the wheelhouse where his hand was soaked in a bowl of Dettol, iodine and water. His arm was then wrapped from the armpit to the wrist with a compression bandage.
Not the actual victim.
At 08.43 the Master called Careflight at which time the vessel was some 57 nautical miles from South Point, Groote Eylandt. During a conference call a plan was established to steam towards Alyangula, a town on Groot Eylandt which is a further 23 nautical miles past South Point where there is a health clinic.
At that point the vessel was only 38.40 nautical miles from Bing Bong, a port and loading facility for the McArthur River mine.
From there it all started to go down hill with the victim with signs of envenomation becoming evident. The Master made another call to Careflight to seek medical advice.
The victim said “Yeah I feel fine, no pain. At 09.55 the Master told the doctors that the victim remained well, but he did mention that he was closer to Bing Bong than Alyangula.
At 10.10 the Master was directed to turn around and steam to Bing Bong. At that point the vessel was 42.41 nautical miles from South Point and 48.15 nautical miles from Bing Bong.
At 10.18 AMSA contacted the RAAF to determine if a helicopter could be sent which the RAAF agreed to do and advised the ETA was 15.15.
By 10.28 the victim was in rapid deterioration. At 10.41 the victim became unresponsive and CPR was commenced and was maintained for the next 4 hours.
Alyangula Police sent a Police vessel with 2 clinic nurses to meet the vessel. At 11.26 a jet set off from Cairns with an estimated flying time of 2 hours to drop medical supplies to the vessel.
At 12.50 a fast catamaran set out from Bing Bong with a doctor and nurse onboard with sufficient equipment to intubate the victim. They boarded the vessel at 14.30. The victim could not be revived, and he was declared deceased at 14.28 hours.
A draft WorkSafe investigation report stated:
- The vessels Masters Log contained no information and did not meet the requirement of the SMS;
- There were no induction records or records of training and drills;
- The hazard mitigations for marine animals were stated in the SMS to be PPE, on the job training and the policy on handling marine organisms. However, the PPE required was not specified and there was no policy on handling marine organisms.
Note that ALL sea snakes are venomous, and all bites should be treated as a medical emergency!
If you operate a trawler or any other vessel where you encounter sea snakes review (or develop) a procedure for handling them which includes the use of snake grabbers or hooks and include a snake bite kit in your first aid supplies.
When buying bandages for snake bites make sure you purchase specifically made snake bite compression bandages with indicator. It’s critical you get the right compression to reduce lymphatic flow which is where the venom is.