Brit bitten by sea snake in Australia dies on backpacking trip

A British backpacker has died after being bitten by a highly venomous sea snake in Australia while working on a fishing trawler.

An expert says it may be the first recorded death from a sea snake in Australia.

The 23-year-old man was pulling up a net while working off Groote Eylandt, an island in Northern Territory, when he was bitten on Thursday.

The trawler made its way to Borroloola, inland from the Gulf of Carpentaria, where the victim was pronounced dead.

An air ambulance was summoned, but it wasn’t able to arrive in time to airlift the man to hospital.

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The man was pulling up a net when he was bitten (file photo)

The incident happened about 400 miles east of Northern Territory’s capital, Darwin, around 9am local time on Thursday.

Craig Garraway, from St John Ambulance, told ABC News: “A trawler off Groote Eylandt had reported that one of their male crewmen had been bitten by a sea snake.

“The Groote Island health clinic and police responded to the trawler, but unfortunately the male passed away at some point yesterday afternoon.”

Inquiries are continuing and a post-mortem will be carried out.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are supporting the family of a British man who had died in the Northern Territory and are in contact with the Australian authorities.”

The incident happened in Australia’s Northern Territory on Thursday

Blanche D’Anastasi, who researches sea snakes at James Cook University, told the BBC that she believed Australia had no previously recorded deaths from sea snakes.

University of Queensland Associate Prof Bryan Fry said it was a “tragically unlucky accident”, adding: “By and large they are very gentle animals, and people do go scuba diving with them all the time.

“But in a fishing trawler situation, where they’ve been potentially dragged through the water in a net, they will come up injured and perhaps looking to lash out.”

Following an attack on a Darwin fisherman earlier this year, an expert said sea snakes are just as poisonous as tiger snakes.

Dr Michael Guinea, Charles Darwin University honorary fellow, told ABC News sea snakes are “equally poisonous if not more poisonous as things such as our tiger snakes and western brown [snakes]”.

The man was working off Groote Eylandt when he was bitten

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Sea snakes aren’t known to be aggressive underwater and bites are rare.

But if they are caught by a fisherman, the best thing to do is cut the line, Dr Guinea said.

Bite victims are advised to bandage and immobilise their wound immediately and then seek medical attention.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science describes Australia as a “global hotspot” for sea snakes, as it’s home to 30 of the 70 known species worldwide.

It said sea snake populations have declined in recent years, and one of the key concerns for conservationists is that they are frequently caught as by-catch in trawl fisheries.

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Thursday’s death is the second of a British man while working on a fishing boat in the north of the country in five years.

In November 2013 a 20-year-old UK-born man died while working on a prawn trawler.

Ryan Donoghue was electrocuted while using a power tool when a wave washed on deck as it returned to Cairns.

Despite the efforts of the crew, he died on board with the trawler still 11 hours from port.

After an inquest in 2016, a coroner found his death was a “tragic, unnecessary and avoidable” accident and recommended new safety measures for using electrical tools at sea.

Mr Donoghue was born in Shoreham by Sea, West Sussex, and his family moved to Australia when he was six years old.

Coroner Greg Cavanagh said in his findings: “The death of Ryan Donoghue was needless and a tragic waste of a young life. It would have been prevented if there was even a modicum of compliance with the law. There was not.”

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