Hero saved mate from fire

Brad Thompson
Danger: The Ocean Drover ablaze in Fremantle. Picture: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

Federal investigators have revealed only the incredible bravery of a senior crewman prevented a tragedy during a fire a board a livestock carrier berthed at Fremantle.

A preliminary report released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau does not name the second mate, but _The West Australian _can identify Mario Curkov as the modest hero who almost certainly saved the life of one of his fellow crewmen during the fire on the Ocean Drover in October.

Officer Curkov, from Croatia, twice braved intense heat and thick smoke to ensure no crew were trapped in their cabins and in doing so rescued Able Seaman Kenneth Castanares.

AB Castanares was asleep in his cabin when the fire alarm sounded. He began shouting for help and tried to escape, but collapsed in his cabin doorway after being overcome by smoke.

Officer Curkov, wearing a fire suit and breathing apparatus, tried to reach him but was forced back by the intensity of the fire.

He refused to give up and tried again from a second access point.

The ATSB report says: "With a fire extinguisher in hand, he crouched low and entered the alleyway. The smoke was very heavy and he could not see and could no longer hear any calls for help.

"The second mate dropped to a crawling position and began feeling his way further inside.

"When the second mate had crawled a few metres, he felt a body lying in one of the forward doorways. He manhandled the non-responsive man out of the cabin doorway and along the alleyway."

Officer Curkov used his breathing apparatus to revive AB Castanares once they were out of danger on the deck. He was treated at Fremantle Hospital for burns and smoke inhalation.

AB Castanares was flown back to his home to be with family in the Philippines.

Leading WA agribusiness Wellard has boosted its fleet of livestock carriers to four in the months since the fire a board the Ocean Drover, its flagship vessel.

Wellard bought the Nuiyang Express from Chinese interests for an estimated $30 million as it continues to invest heavily in Australian agriculture.

In keeping with his fondness for Australian names, chief executive Mauro Balzarini renamed the ship the Ocean Ute after adding it to a fleet comprising the Ocean Drover, the Ocean Swagman and the Ocean Outback.

The Ute was converted to a livestock carrier in 2010 and has the capacity to carry about 5000 cattle or 20,000 sheep, or a combination of both.

Wellard had been leasing it to ship cattle to markets in Vietnam and Indonesia.

Repairs to the Ocean Drover are almost complete and it is on target to be back in action next month as authorities continue to investigate the fire in October.