SIU Government Services Division mariners aboard the Military Sealift Command-operated (MSC) USNS Wally Schirra recently put their rescue training to use, as the vessel came across five Filipino fishermen on the remnants of an adrift and damaged boat in the South China Sea.
On Oct. 8, the CIVMAR-crewed Schirra was conducting a routine mission when the watch officer and lookout spotted the individuals in apparent distress. The crew sprang into action, working quickly to rescue the stranded men, who had reportedly been floating for five days after their hull was punctured by a blue marlin.
“Luckily, we were going at a slow enough speed to have spotted the fishermen,” said civilian mariner Capt. Keith Sauls, the USNS Wally Schirra’s master. “The individuals were waving their arms and a flag in the air. They were also flashing a white light that was previously thought to be a fishing buoy. The watch officer notified me and then the chief mate of a possible rescue situation.”
“The fishermen salvaged what they could from the rapidly sinking boat, removing the outriggers and planks to turn it into a raft with floats and barrels underneath for floatation,” said Chief Mate Leon Hadley. “They took with them some rice, clothes, batteries, an 8-watt bulb, an AM-receive-only radio and a handheld GPS. They had no water.”
As the MSC vessel closed the distance, the fishermen entered the water and swam toward the Wally Schirra. A rigid-hulled, inflatable boat and search and rescue swimmers were deployed, and the fishermen were pulled to safety. Once the fishermen were aboard the Wally Schirra, qualified personnel conducted an initial medical assessment and security search of the individuals and their possessions.
The fishermen thanked the crew of the Schirra for rescuing and housing them, and for their generosity in providing them with spare clothes and cash donations. The men were then transferred to the Philippine Coast Guard while at sea.
“On average, death results two to three days after a diet of drinking undiluted salt water or urine in survival-at-sea events as it takes more water than is consumed for the body to process the waste and salt out of the kidneys, leading to a build-up of salt and toxic ammonia in the body which only deepens the cycle and quickly leads to death if not stopped,” said Hadley. “We’re all lucky we found them when we did.”
The USNS Wally Schirra, currently operating in the U.S. Navy 7th fleet area of responsibility, is a fleet ordnance and dry cargo ship. The union-built T-AKE ship incorporates international marine technologies and commercial ship-design features, including an integrated electricdrive propulsion system to minimize operating costs over its projected 40-year service life. Each of the 14 T-AKE vessels is 689 feet long, with a 106-foot beam. The ships can sail at 20 knots; they each carry civilian crews of 129.