Defence department accused of failing to train personnel properly after soldiers mauled by crocodile

Australia’s Department of Defence could be given a $1.5m fine for failing to properly train its personnel after two of its soldiers were mauled by a crocodile.

The federal government’s workplace watchdog, Comcare, announced on Friday the department had been charged for failing its duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

It is alleged that defence failed to provide a safe workplace by implementing policies prohibiting personnel from entering crocodile-infested waters, conducting risk assessments and providing detailed safety briefings around the dangers of crocodiles.

If found guilty, the department could be fined a maximum of $1.5m.

A spokesperson for defence said it remained grateful for those involved in the rescue mission but would not be making further comments while the matter was before the courts.

“The safety of our people is paramount in all activities and critical to our mission of defending Australia and its national interests,” the spokesperson said in a statement on Friday.

The incident happened in August 2021 when Darwin-based army soldiers were transporting a landing craft from Darwin to Townsville for maintenance, according to Comcare.

Permission was allegedly given to the soldiers – a man in his 20s and a man in his early 30s – to go fishing at the Cape York Peninsula community of Portland Road in an inflatable defence boat, called a Zodiac.

The coastal fishing village is about 750km north of Cairns and is known as crocodile territory.

While the boat was anchored, the soldiers began swimming and the younger of the men was dragged underwater and mauled by a 2.5-metre saltwater crocodile.

The man in his early 30s allegedly fought off the crocodile, and the two men were able to get back into the boat.

Both men sustained significant injuries, including bite and claw wounds, according to Comcare.

According to reports at the time, the soldiers were transferred to shore in a tinny, where a rescue helicopter met them and flew them to Lockhart River airport.

From there, the Royal Flying Doctor Service transported them to Cairns, where they were rushed to hospital.

Queensland Ambulance Service officer Denis O’Sullivan told AAP the younger man was incredibly lucky to be alive, given the extent of his blood loss.

The crocodile suspected of attacking the soldiers was killed days later by wildlife officers.

The matter is listed for a mention in Brisbane magistrates court on 15 September.