British man dies from sea snake bite in Australia

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Sea snakes are often encountered by fishing crews in northern Australia

A British man has died after being bitten by a sea snake on a fishing trawler in Australia, police have said.

The man, 23, thought to be a backpacker, had just pulled up a net off the coast of the Northern Territory when he was bitten about 09:00 local time on Thursday (23:00 GMT Wednesday).

Emergency crews were called to the boat, near island Groote Eylandt, but were unable to save the man.

It may be the first recorded death from a sea snake in Australia.

The man was working on the trawler and was bitten by the sea snake while pulling the net onto the boat, police said.

The man's body was taken to the mainland town of Borroloola on Thursday. Northern Territory Police said a post-mortem would be conducted.

A British High Commission spokesperson said: "We are supporting the family of a British man who has died in the Northern Territory and are in contact with the Australian authorities."

Authorities have not said which species may have caused the death.

'Tragically unlucky'

Sea snakes are highly venomous, but because of their limited contact with humans, bites are relatively rare.

Australia is home to 30 of 70 known species, according to the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Blanche D'Anastasi, who researches the animal at James Cook University, said she believed Australia had no previously recorded deaths from sea snakes.

Associate Prof Bryan Fry, from University of Queensland, described it as a "tragically unlucky accident".

"By and large they are very gentle animals, and people do go scuba diving with them all the time," he told the BBC.

"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."

Sea snakes are often encountered by fishing crews in the region, Ms D'Anastasi said.

According to research published last year, snakes were responsible for 27 deaths in Australia between 2000 and 2013.