The SIU-crewed Maersk Columbus recently played a vital role in a successful search-and-rescue mission off the coast of Spain. SIU members teamed up with mariners from the MEBA and MM&P to assist 11 Algerian individuals (including a small child and an infant) who were in a small rubber boat, trying to sail to Spain.
The mariners received a thank-you letter from the Spanish Maritime Safety Agency that read in part, “We would like to express our deepest appreciation for the assistance that your vessel, M/V Maersk Columbus provided to MCC Almeria to locate a small rubber boat with several persons on board…. The actions of [your] Master and the Crew are keeping with the highest traditions of Maritime Search and Rescue. We are pleased to convey our special thanks to you and your crew for a job well done.”
Maersk Columbus vessel master Capt. John C. Finney provided the following recap:
On November 30, 2019 at about 2000 hours, the Maersk Columbus received a radio call from RCC ALMERIA in Spain, asking if we could assist in a search for a small boat, with unknown persons aboard. All hands were mustered, and the ship turned about, to begin the search. Extra lookouts were posted and bridge wing search lights were manned.
A SAR aircraft gave us a bearing from our position to the last suspected position of the small craft. With the engine room now fully manned, the Captain began slowing the ship as we came about onto the search course. The SAR aircraft was instrumental in locating the craft, as the craft had no lights showing, and the night was very dark. Suddenly, small flashing lights were seen off the ship’s port bow. The craft turned out to be a small black rubber boat, with 11 persons on board, including one small child and one infant. They had managed to use their cellphones as lights to attract our attention.
First, the ship was slowed and maneuvered into hailing distance of the small boat. The Chief Mate, being fluent in Arabic, was sent down to main deck to try and establish communication with the people in the boat, and to get an accurate count of persons on board. We reported back to RCC ALMERIA our findings. The Chief Mate was able to determine that all persons were Algerian, and discovered that they had “lost their way” as they were attempting to cross the Med from Algeria to Spain. The Mate could see that they had food, water, and fuel on board the small boat, and that the boat was not taking on water.
At first, the RCC asked if we could launch our Rescue boat and take the persons on board. Due to the rough conditions, the Captain advised the RCC that launching the rescue boat would put more people at risk. The RCC advised that there was a Spanish patrol boat in the area, but it was involved in another rescue several miles to the north, and that it would be close to an hour before they could assist. The captain informed the RCC that we would remain on station alongside the small boat until the patrol arrived. The RCC concurred, and proceeded to keep the ship informed of the patrol boat’s ETA to our position. The ship’s crew kept search lights manned and on the small boat, and the Chief Mate stayed on deck to assure them that help was on the way. The Captain had the Mate tell them that we would not leave them, that we would stay as long as it took for the patrol boat to arrive. The Captain maneuvered the ship to create a lee off the port side, and instructed the Mate to tell the person in charge on the little boat to stay in the lee, and to stay right alongside the ship.
The Spanish patrol boat arrived on scene at about 2120 hours, and proceeded to take all persons from the small boat on board the patrol boat. Once all persons were safely on board the patrol boat, RCC AMERIA was notified, and at about 2145 hours, we were released to continue on to our next port of call.
MM&P members on board: Capt. John Finney, C/M Marwan Elsamny, 2/M Greg Danaher, 3/M Cassandra Clark.
MEBA members on board: C/E Jon Schmidt, 1/E Frank Whelpley, 2/E Julianne Cona, 3/E Seth Kaye. SIU members on board: Recertified Bosun Ion Irimia, Daymen Eduardo Barlas and Sacarias Suazo, ABs Jerzy Marciniak, Marcos Santos Gamboa, and Jose Calix, Electrician Tousif Ahmed, QMED George Santiago, DEU Amado Laboriel-Reyes, Chief Steward Fernando Lopes, Chief Cook Adele Messina, and SA Angel Corchado.