Record of Investigation into death

Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
Rule 11

I, Stephen Raymond Carey, Coroner, having investigated the death of

John Phillip Harris and Leonie Harris



(a) the identity of the deceased is John Phillip Harris ("Mr Harris"). Mr Harris was born in Australia on 19 September, 1946. He was married to Leonie.

(b) the identify of the deceased is Leonie Harris ("Mrs Harris"). Mrs Harris was born in Australia on 25 November, 1946.

(c) Mr & Mrs Harris died after taking to sea from St Helens on 1 February, 1985. They have not been seen since.

(d) Mr & Mrs Harris died on or about the 1 February 1985 in waters off St Helens

Circumstances Surrounding The Death:

Mr Harris worked as a fisherman for a St Helens fishing business (B J & A D Charlton & F J & S Walker). In 1984 Mr Harris obtained his coxswains certificate. He was about to skipper a new vessel being constructed by Mr Charlton for use as a dropline/charter boat. However, as construction of the new vessel was not complete Mr Charlton converted the vessel ‘Sirocco’ for use by Mr Harris in the intervening period. Sirocco was a 10 year old steel boat. Various alterations had been made to the vessel so Mr Harris could conduct dropline fishing. The vessel was inspected for survey but required further attention. The re-survey date was scheduled for 8th February 1985. It was reported that the vessel had very little water clearance at the stern.

Mr Harris had very little practical experience of dropline fishing of the continental shelf. Mrs Harris had even less experience.

At about 3.30pm on Sunday 1 February, 1985 Mr and Mrs Harris prepared to set off from St Helens for sea in the fishing vessel Sirocco. Mr & Mrs Harris intended fishing of the continental shelf, 17 miles off St Helens Point. Mr Harris was the skipper and Mrs Harris was acting as crew.

Prior to leaving Mr Harris spoke to Mr Michael Tucker, a professional fisherman at the jetty. Mr Tucker advised Mr Harris to remain in touch by radio as this was Mr Harris’s first trip to sea in the vessel Sirocco. It was agreed that Mr Harris would utilise channels 72 & 86. It was also agreed that as Mr Tucker was also heading out to sea Mr Harris would follow his vessel over the bar.

At about 3.45pm both vessels crossed the bar and headed North-East. At about 1 nautical mile off Elephant Rock Mr Tucker decided not to head further out to sea due to the weather conditions. Mr Tucker had determined it would not be safe to stay at sea overnight. Mr Tucker attempted to contact the Sirocco via channel 86 to inform them of the conditions however was unsuccessful. Mr Tucker has then made his way to Skelton Bay where he anchored overnight.

At about 6.00am on Sunday 3 February Mr I Walker (part-owner of Sirocco) travelled to the St Helens Island area and then onto the continental shelf as Mr & Mrs Harris had not returned to port nor made any communication contact. The vessel was not located.

Approximately three hours later a report was made to St Helens Police that the vessel Sirocco and its crew of two (Mr & Mrs Harris) were missing. A search and rescue operation was commenced utilising both airbourne and seabourne resources. The search operation lasted for in excess of 1 week.

The search was initially confined to an area 15-16 nautical miles east of the Gardens as two dan poles and a blue esky coming from the Sirocco had been located the previous day. The search was gradually expanded from this point along the continental shelf as some flotsam had been sighted at 10.25am on 6 February south of Schouten Island. Unfortunately, due to the weather conditions the flotsam was not recovered.

Family members report no contact with Mr & Mrs Harris since that time and there has been no activity on their bank accounts.

A number of inquiries were conducted by Tasmania Police following the disappearance of Mr & Mrs Harris. All those inquiries were negative.

The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Mr & Mrs Harris have been considered by the Tasmania Police Cold Case Unit. The death of Mr & Mrs Harris is not considered suspicious.

Comments & Recommendations:

Mr & Mrs Harris departed St Helens on the 1 February, 1085 to undertake fishing operations on the continental shelf in the vessel Sirocco. Mr & Mrs Harris were inexperienced in ‘dropline fishing’ and unfamiliar with the vessel Sirocco.

On the day they departed St Helens the weather conditions were marginal and forecast to deteriorate during the evening.

I am satisfied that, based on the evidence before me Mr & Mrs Harris have perished whilst at sea possibly after Sirocco floundered.

Before I conclude this matter, I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the family of the deceased.

This matter is now concluded

DATED: 3 May 2011 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania


Stephen Raymond Carey