'It was terrifying for all of them'

By Shae McDonald

Lady Musgrave Island in Gladstone.
Lady Musgrave Island in Gladstone.

Eight Chinese tourists hospitalised after being forced to jump from a boat that caught fire off the central Queensland coast yesterday have been discharged.

Eleven of the 42 passengers aboard the Spirit of 1770 were taken to hospital after they were told to jump from the catamaran on the Great Barrier Reef and seek refuge in life rafts while they waited to be rescued.

A Bundaberg Base Hospital spokesman said eight people, all aged in their 60s, admitted on Wednesday were discharged today, but remained on site while they waited for transport.

They suffered a range of minor injuries that included cuts and dehydration.

Three people aged in their 50s and 60s were taken to Gladstone Hospital where they remain in a stable condition.

The 25m catamaran caught fire about 10 nautical miles off the Queensland coastal town of 1770 about 6pm NZT after a day trip to Lady Musgrave Island.

Reef 2 Beach surf school owner Wayne "Grom" Mellick said the tourists were lucky a strong southerly breeze eased off. "They were almost ideal conditions for the rescue operation," he said.

Three vessels were sent to collect the group but they did not reach shore for several hours. Gladstone police Inspector Darren Somerville said the process of transferring them was slow and described the incident as terrifying for the tourists.

"The number of people in the life rafts and the logistics in transferring from a life raft to a vessel just took some time," he told ABC Radio.

"It was terrifying for all of them, we're just thankful that everyone is accounted for and no one suffered any major injuries."

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