As part of a much larger rescue effort, Seafarers sailing aboard the Maersk Line-operated Maersk Peary pulled a man from the Aegean Sea on Dec. 22. The SIU crew aboard the Peary, which was en route to deliver vital fuel and supplies to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, included: Bosun Damon Zschoch; ABs Marie Acosta, Roni Castillo, Joshua Gail, Edward Majesky and Derek Willis; QE3 Lateef Sanusi; QEP Rickey Yancey; GSTU Lakeeba Bazemore; Wiper Ali Laith; Recertified Steward Tony Spain; and Chief Cooks Osmar Ramos and Randy Hampton. The ship’s officers are represented by the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers.
The following is an abbreviated description of the rescue that was provided by vessel master Capt. Everett Hatton:
“On the evening of December 22, at 2030 local time, while Maersk Peary was transiting the Aegean Sea north of Crete and on the way to Suez Canal, the Navigation Bridge Watch Officer, Third Mate Gemma Nguyen, received a call on VHF Channel 16 from Rescue Center Piraeus. “The call was to inform Maersk Peary to join in a search mission for a vessel that capsized the previous day, and of which we were now in the immediate vicinity. Our plotted route to Suez Canal took us to within 13.5 nautical miles of where the vessel was initially reported being capsized with possibly 60 people.
“We contacted the Command Vessel and received instructions with coordinates making a box, and were told to proceed there while keeping a lookout for possible survivors in the water. At 2048, while our area was being plotted, I decided to head on a northerly heading into our box. As we approached our given area of patrol, we slowed the vessel, added extra lookouts and manned the searchlights scanning ahead of the bow while doing our grid search.
“At 2157, after about an hour of slow steaming with searchlights headed north in our grid search, I noticed something in the water just off our starboard bow. I could tell that, based on our current heading (001 T) and speed (@ 5.0 knots), the white object would pass close down the starboard side. I kept the searchlight on the object while Third Mate and Bosun focused on it with binoculars. As we got closer, it was determined that a person could be seen with arms raised holding onto the white object (later identified as a boat fender).”
Castillo told the Seafarers LOG, “I was already in bed around 2100 when I got a call from the bridge to report to the fast rescue boat on the starboard side of the ship. We had a man overboard. I was thinking it was a crew member, as I got dressed quickly and started heading out to the boat. As soon as I got there, I went to my assignment as the sea painter. Directed by the officer in charge, we launched the rescue boat and headed toward the man in the water. They got him in the boat and brought him back, hooked him into the rescue boat. He asked for some drinking water, and we also gave him a banana.”
The crew recovered the man from the wreckage and brought him on board. As described by the captain, “He had no energy to assist in getting himself into the rescue boat. He was wearing only a t-shirt, shorts and socks. It looked like he must have jumped into the water from being asleep.” Castillo recalled, “From the time I received the call from the bridge and got the boat in the water to the time we got the man back to the boat, it was less than 20 minutes.”
The crew then transferred the man, who was shivering but conscious, to the Greek Coast Guard and resumed their grid search. The Maersk Peary was then relieved of their search and rescue duties four hours later, and returned to their original course.
“After the Greek Coast Guard took the survivor, I never did hear about his condition,” said Hatton. “I can only speculate that he is doing fine as he was conscious and moving around a bit on his own when we passed him off.”
The captain concluded, “I am very fortunate for SIU to step up and provide a top-notch crew on very short time as we rushed the vessel from load port Greece just prior to the holidays. This current crew proved to be well qualified and trained when the alarms rang to turn to for a search and rescue during the dark of the night. Without a hesitation, when called to assist, all were there and added helping hands. For the Maersk Peary crew, it was an outstanding effort for everyone to be involved in this recovery.”
During that weekend, at least 30 migrants died in three separate incidents in the same area, with more than 160 rescued. The combined rescue efforts saw at least four Greek Coast Guard vessels, a Greek naval frigate, eight merchant ships, three private vessels, three military helicopters and a military transport plane all pitch in to save as many lives as possible.