CHARGES DROPPED: Anthony Dean Grose at Gladstone.
CHARGES DROPPED: Anthony Dean Grose at Gladstone. Tegan Annett

Captain's acquittal raises questions over prosecution system

A COURT'S acquittal of a man who was at the helm of a catamaran when it caught fire and sunk near Agnes Water in 2016 has prompted questions as to why the former captain was charged over the Spirit of 1770 maritime disaster to begin with.

On Tuesday Anthony Dean Grose walked free from Gladstone Magistrates Court after a two-day hearing found allegations against the former captain, which alleged his failure to make a mayday call when the ship caught fire was in breach of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's correct radio procedures, couldn't be sustained.

His acquittal came on day two of his hearing, when Commonwealth Crown prosecutor Glen Rice threw out the case against Mr Grose after evidence from former deckhand Bruce MacLennan revealed it would have been impossible for the former captain to make a mayday call using a radio as the inferno had cut off the vessel's power - cutting the legs out from under the backbone of the prosecution's case.

The court also heard Mr Grose did still report the fire via a 'pan-pan' call and contacted authorities on a mobile phone while the fire raged on.

The sudden backflip in the courtroom on Tuesday has raised significant confusion among those who have been following the case since its inception two years ago, with some begging the question: how was Mr Grose charged and why was the matter prosecuted in the first place.

According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, whom the Commonwealth Crown prosecutor was acting on behalf of during this week's legal proceedings, there are certain criteria that must be met for a brief of evidence to be prepared for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution, which, yesterday, a spokesperson for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said had been met.

These include: does the breach exhibit a significant degree of criminality, is the breach sufficiently serious that the Commonwealth and the community expect it to be dealt with by prosecution, and has the breach produced significant real or potential harm.

The spokesperson stressed a "thorough investigation" into the Spirit of 1770 maritime disaster had been conducted and that AMSA had been "confident there was adequate evidence to proceed with charges against Mr Grose". 

"AMSA prepared a brief of evidence for the CDPP, which (they) assessed in accordance with the Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth, the spokesperson said.

The final decision as to whether to proceed with prosecution is based on whether the CDPP deems there is sufficient evidence to support the reasonable prospect of a conviction resulting, and whether the imposition of a criminal penalty in the given case is in the public's interest (which is based on the seriousness of the alleged offence and whether its nature is of considerable public concern).

The AMSA spokesperson said given the CDPP had been satisfied there was sufficient evidence to prosecute, two charges each of master negligently risks safety of a person or domestic commercial vessel and master recklessly contravenes duty to ensure safety of vessels, marine safety equipment or operations were laid against Mr Grose. 

"AMSA is disappointed that the charges against Mr Grose were dropped but this was a decision of the CDPP to make in accordance with the CDPP's National Legal Directions," the spokesperson said.

"AMSA will continue to investigate safety breaches, and where the circumstances and evidence warrant, recommend CDPP take legal action."

Despite this week's acquittal of Mr Grose, AMSA yesterday told the NewsMail their dealings with the Spirit of 1770 maritime disaster were far from over, revealing charges against the operator of the catamaran had been laid and that prosecution of the matter was continuing.

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