CORALITA: Alby Ziebell, Wally Muller

AlbyZiebell - Alby hitchhikerTSMV Coralita – ‘twin screw motor vessel’.

Alby and Irene  Zeibell became the second owners of the famed charter vessel Coralita when purchased from  Captain Wally Muller.Base of operations for Barrier Reef Cruises was moved from Yeppoon  to Cairns in north Queensland where there was an international airport.  Coralita had a ‘Commonwealth survey’ registration which enabled charters anywhere in the world.  Yjis was unique with Queensland  charter boats at the time.

Alby was a former Tasmanian abalone diver who excelled at most things he set his mind to. He began exploring The Coral Sea aboard his new vessel and soon turned it into the best international scuba live-aboard boat, catering to advanced divers. Alby was able to concentrate  time on underwater photography and was soon achieving the top quality professional results from macro to very wide-angle. Unique subject matter included the first ‘schooling hammerhead sharks’ at Osprey Reef in The Coral Sea (not a part of the Great Barrier Reef).

Coralita was not so fortunate. The first mishap occurred when a giant US warship accidentally ‘squashed’ the tied-up vessel against Cairns wharf, while attempting a difficult turn in a current.

After months of repairs Coralita later caught fire from smouldering electrical wiring in the galley on her first dive charter.  Worse was yet to come.

Just days before departure for months of pre-paid dive charter work in New Guinea, a suspicious explosion occurred in the sealed engine room which sent Coralita to the bottom of Cairns Harbour in seconds.

Alby was cleared of involvement in the accident after two investigations – although waterfront rumors always blame any maritime accident on the owner.  What can now be revealed (in 2020) was a serious verbal threat from a competitor hours before the accident.

Construction for a newer and bigger vessel were 90% complete but another financial disaster occurred when the builder declared bankruptcy before completion.  (Not uncommon in boat building where new project finances are required to finish existing orders).

Alby then turned his talents to angling and soon became an authority with a weekly radio slot and many new fishing friends. Anglers comprised 95% of the vast crowd who attended his funeral. Alby died from a heart attack in a remote region while returning from a fishing trip up the coast with his mates.

Christine Danaher

Twin screw Coralita in 1974.


More about Coralita  <click

LAST DAYS OF CORALITA ……First scuba dive boat

In 1992 Coralita exploded and sank in Cairns. There was nobody aboard. Mystery surrounded the accident.

Alby was suspected by some, (dive boat oppositions especially),  of personally causing the loss. Two insurance company investigations cleared him.

It is believed recharging battery fumes (in the water-tight engine room) was ignited by a sparking electric bilge pump. BOOM. The sides and deck above were turned into splinters. The boat sank in 30 seconds.

During this final era with Coralita, Alby (a former pro abalone diver) ran a very slick dive boat. He mastered underwater photography in a matter of months, learning much from the guests who included the top international names. He used three motor drive Nikon’s with strobes. Discovered schooling hammerhead sharks at Osprey Reef.

His future plan was bigger and better live-aboard dive boats.

Alby was on the eve of expanding the  trips to include Papua New Guinea when the boat was lost.

(It wasn’t the only serious problem the boat had. Previously a giant US Navy ship had crushed her against the city wharf – splitting internal structural timbers and resulting in months of lost revenue eventually poorly compensated for).

The sunken wreck was salvaged, sold for one thousand dollars and slowly rebuilt.

Today she operates under a new name Bell Cay from her original home port of Yeppoon.

In August 2010 Bell Cay encountered a severe storm in The Swain Reefs.

LAST UNDERWATER PICTURES by my friend Alby Ziebell

BeautifulReef (64k image)
“The reef top is dominated by \Acropora\ (Staghorn Corals)” wrote David Barnes PhD of Townsville.

We had hoped for a guess or even an identification of the actual reef location. It’s somewhere north from Cairns and looks quite special. But the actual location, it now seems, will possibly always remain a secret.

These pictures are from **the very last roll of underwater film taken by one of Australia’s most talented UW cameramen.** Sadly, the owner never saw these pictures before he died.

They were found in un-processed form in one of his Nikon F camera’s still within it’s Canadian-made housing with 24mm lens and motor drive.

**Alby Ziebell 1949-2003**