On dry land: Missing fishermen reunited with family after more than a week at sea

Goolwa fishermen Derek Robinson and Tony Higgins have touched down on dry land after being missing for more than four days in waters south of Port Lincoln.

The pair were located in Salt Creek in the state's south east early on Thursday morning September 10, before being towed to Victor Harbor by Police Water Operations Units.

In emotional scenes, Mr Robinson was escorted to awaiting family members at the Bluff Boat Ramp around 2pm, while Mr Higgins remained aboard his vessel the Margrel, which was anchored off Granite Island.

Mr Robinson embraced his sons as he stepped onto dry land and said he was very emotional after the miracle survival.

"Everybody here right now is who I care about," Mr Robinson said.

"This is very emotional, my legs are still wobbly... we never realised everyone was out looking for us."

The search was called off just before the missing fishermen made contact with authorities.

Mr Robinson said the pair had safety equipment aboard the vessel, which they purchased in Coffin Bay last week, but said there was the odd scary moment.

"We didn't really feel scared, just isolated. But when big waves came at us, we got worried," Mr Robinson said.

"We were just worried that we could have been broadsided by a wave, as we had a propeller throw a blade after hitting something.

"The boat could not go on full power and we were running at only two or three knots."

Mr Robinson paid tribute to his friend and skipper, Mr Higgins.

"Tony and I got on very well, he was so supportive and reassuring the whole time we were out there," Mr Robinson said.

"The bilge pump kept breaking down, but Tony would fix it.

"We had enough provisions to last another day or two so that wasn't a problem just yet."

Mr Robinson said he had a love for adventure, but wasn't sure when he would next get on a boat and that he was looking forward to spending quality time with his family.

Police assistance: Tony Higgins remained aboard his vessel the Margrel, anchored off Granite Island, while Derek Robinson was escorted by police to the Bluff Boat Ramp to be reunited with his family. Photo: Jack Manning.

Police assistance: Tony Higgins remained aboard his vessel the Margrel, anchored off Granite Island, while Derek Robinson was escorted by police to the Bluff Boat Ramp to be reunited with his family. Photo: Jack Manning.

Police Superintendent Officer in Charge for Hills and Fleurieu, Mark Fairney reflected the sentiments of Mr Robinson's ecstatic family.

"It is a relief they are both home safe and well after a week at sea," Mr Fairney said.

"It would have been frightening at times.

"I thank the all the resources that have been used and all involved in the search effort, it is good news both men are safe.

"I have been advised this is one of the largest maritime searches in South Australia, approximately 104,000 square kilometres and they are here safe."

Alexandrina Mayor Keith Parkes said the rescue was a fantastic outcome.

"It's great for the families, everyone thought they were lost at sea, so it is a great survival story. Amazing," Mr Parkes said.

Family and friends relieved 

The family and friends of Mr Robinson spoke to The Times while waiting on his safe return early Thursday morning.

Brother Ian Robinson said he never had any doubt that his brother would make it back safe.

"We knew he was coming home, we never gave up, he is a survivor and there was never a doubt in my mind," Mr Robinson said.

Sons' Ashley and Tim were both present at the Bluff Boat Ramp awaiting the safe return of their father, and were overjoyed at the news.

"We are very happy for him to be back alive and well," Ashley said.

"It has been a very up and down time, we haven't known what to think, we were especially disappointed when the search was called off, but we have always been positive.

"We always had hope and you never give up until there is proof otherwise."

Ian Robinson wanted to thank everyone involved in the search and rescue.

"A big thank you," he said.

Derek's best mate Matt Bentley agreed with the families' sentiments and said he was always positive that Derek would make it back to his family and friends.

Relief: Ashley, Tim, Ian and Matt at the Bluff Boat Ramp eagerly awaiting the safe return of brother, father and friend Derek Robinson. Photo: Michael Simmons.

Relief: Ashley, Tim, Ian and Matt at the Bluff Boat Ramp eagerly awaiting the safe return of brother, father and friend Derek Robinson. Photo: Michael Simmons.

Friends of Mr Higgins Mitch Crowhurst and Robert Dorrough had been waiting at Goolwa Wharf since dawn.

There were reports the Margrel with Mr Higgins and Mr Robinson onboard was to be towed to the wharf at Goolwa, but those plans changed and it was instead towed to Victor Harbor.

Mr Crowhurst, who had driven the two men to Coffin Bay so they could pick up the Margrel last week, said he was especially glad the pair were alive.

"I drove them out there to buy the boat to pick it up so they could bring it home and fix it up, and they're still going to get to do that," Mr Crowhurst said.

He said as more time had passed since the men were last heard from, he was losing hope, but now he could not be more excited.

"My heart was getting heavy, I was fending off the doubts that were coming into my mind and hoping for a good outcome and we got it, so I'm thankful," he said.

"We've been praying for them and hoping for a miracle, and that miracle has come to fruition.

"It's amazing that they're still floating along now and they made it all that way. We're just so grateful."

Friend Robert Dorrough was also at Goolwa Wharf to welcome the men home.

Prayers answered: Friends of Tony Higgins, Mitch Crowhurst and Robert Dorrough wait for his return at the Goolwa Wharf, early Thursday morning. Photo: Jack Manning.

Prayers answered: Friends of Tony Higgins, Mitch Crowhurst and Robert Dorrough wait for his return at the Goolwa Wharf, early Thursday morning. Photo: Jack Manning.

"An absolute miracle, I couldn't believe my ears," he said.

"It was just so overwhelming to get the news that they were safe and sound.

"It was so heart rendering to think we might have lost him, but now he's back again - we're so grateful.

He said Tony went to church with him occasionally, and Robert thanked God for the positive result.

"We prayed for him on Sunday and on Monday night at the church service we had," he said.

"I was just so overwhelmed, so thankful to God."

A week at sea 

At 7am on Thursday, South Australian Police confirmed contact had been made with the two fishermen who had been missing since Sunday.

Tony Higgins and Derek Robinson, 57 and 48, were stranded at Salt Creek, more than 200km from their destination of Goolwa.

The men initially left Coffin Bay in a 30-foot wooden hulled fishing boat bound for Goolwa about 3pm on Thursday, September 3.

They reported engine trouble to a friend about 11pm on Friday, September 4, and advised they were going to divert to Kangaroo Island.

When no word had been heard from the men, the friend raised the alarm on Sunday, and a massive search was launched.

With the assistance of aircraft from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Royal Australian Air Force and Kangaroo Island and Volunteer Marine Rescue the total search area covered more than 104,000 square kilometres.

At about 10.20pm on Wednesday September 9, shortly after the aerial search had been called off, the men made contact with police.

Police worked with other rescue services overnight to determine the exact location of the boat which was located 13 nautical miles off Meningie at the top of the Coorong at about 7.30am.