The Mayor of Torres Strait Island Regional Council, Fred Gela.
The Mayor of Torres Strait Island Regional Council, Fred Gela.

New theories in search for missing five in Torres Strait

A BOAT carrying five people missing in the Torres Strait could have been swamped by a large wave while being refuelled.

Senior police said they were considering "all scenarios" as an investigation is launched into the tragedy which is believed to have claimed the lives of two men, aged 22 and 47, two 21-year-old women and a nine-year-old boy.

The group were travelling between Badu Island and Dauan Island last Wednesday but failed to arrive, prompting a huge search which spanned more than 2500sq km.

The search was called off on Sunday with Far North police Chief Supt Brian Huxley and Torres Strait police Insp Mark Lingwood breaking the news to devastated family members.

Mayor of Torres Strait Island Regional Council Fred Gela.
Mayor of Torres Strait Island Regional Council Fred Gela.

Chief Supt Huxley said a coronial investigation had begun and the boat would be examined.

He said the 7m vessel did not appear to have suffered any major structural damage so the cause of the incident was unknown.

"We're looking at did they run out of fuel, could they possibly have been stopped and refuelling and been swamped?," he said.

"We're looking at all scenarios and we're also doing a thorough review of our search methodology to make sure we got it 100 per cent right." The vessel was found about 4.5km west of Dauan Island last Thursday, but has now been taken to nearby Saibai Island where it will likely be examined.

Far North police Chief Supt Brian Huxley. PICTURE: STEWART MCLEAN
Far North police Chief Supt Brian Huxley. PICTURE: STEWART MCLEAN

Investigators will also look at the bag of equipment also found floating adrift which also included life jackets and an EPIRB.

The missing group are understood to have strong family connections to Dauan and Badu Islands along with Bamaga at the tipof Cape York.

State Government Minister Shannon Fentiman, who is the ministerial champion for the Torres Strait, expressed her condolences.

"This is incredibly sad news out of the Torres Strait and the devastating situation is a huge blow to such a tight-knit community," she said.

"At this time my thoughts are with the family and friends of those that are missing."

Torres Strait Island Regional Council mayor Fred Gela, who is related to the group, said he was "deeply saddened" by the tragedybut praised the efforts of police, authorities and volunteers who scoured the region for four days.

"Regionally and as a community, our collective thoughts and prayers are with those families affected," he said.

"Whilst the official search (ceased yesterday), I understand that family members and volunteers may continue conducting theirown searches.

"I ask that those who are continuing any searches do so safely by exercising extreme caution and assessing the weather conditionsaccordingly.

"(We) continue to ask that respect and privacy be afforded to the affected families."