A HEARTBROKEN Les Dick was almost reduced to tears at the sight of the sunken Defender - the last historical Tasmanian tall ship remaining - on his arrival 72 hours later in Townsville.
"I just felt like crying," the LD Shipping operator said.
"You just can't explain - it's a bit like looking at one of your kids, I suppose.
"I'm still shaken. I'm having a bit of trouble talking about it."
Having flown from Launceston to inspect the sunken ketch, Mr Dick was met by only a mast poking above the surface of the water, as the Defender was all but submerged.
The 120-year-old vessel mysteriously sank off its mooring at the Ross Creek wharf in North Queensland last Monday.
Suspicions arose of vandalism when Mr Dick was told the power had been disconnected and all the plugs were pulled out.
"For some reason or another, unbeknownst to us, the vessel has sunk," Mr Dick said. "We're not aware of any reason why it would have.
"Certainly it would be doing an injustice to the people in Townsville if we declared it was vandalism before it was proven that it was."
Police have started examining CCTV footage of the surrounding area for foul play, Mr Dick said.
The ship's custodian began to assemble a team on Thursday to formulate a plan for its removal from the sea's floor.
Waiting for low tide to inspect the damage on Friday afternoon, he was coming to accept that a salvage mission could now be out of the question.
"It can be difficult task and can be touch and go as whether we can or not, but I am always on the optimistic side and hopefully we can," Mr Dick said.
Mr Dick said the costs to repair the damage would run in excess of $100,000, not including the costs of salvaging the vessel.
He said a special piece of Tasmania's history - which has included Defender's role as an "ambassador" for Tasmania since the 1988 Bicentenary - would be lost forever should the tall ship not be saved.
Although the boat is insured against wreck removal, the boat itself was not insured.
"This is the last one if anything happens," Mr Dick said.
"If we lose her, that is the end of the Bass Strait ketches.
"She is the last one in existence.
"It will be a very, very sad day if it comes down to that."
Mr Dick said he is yet to field any offers of help to resurrect the Defender.