Unlikely rescue at sea


Until you look at the details, the press release by the Coast Guard is easy to overlook. It tells of a rescue of a commercial vessel crewman at sea. But when you look more closely, it is an intriguing story of both expertise and perseverance that saved a mariner's life. The 675-foot container ship Maersk Bintan was about 750 miles southeast of Bermuda on Saturday, June 16, when the crew realized that one mariner had gone overboard. The ship made an HF DSC radio call at approximately 0830 stating that a crewmember had gone overboard. The watchstander at the Fifth Coast Guard District communications center picked up the call and replied, asking for all the detail available.

“We asked, when was the person last seen, where the ship was at that time, when did the crew notice the man was missing and where the ship was when they knew they had a man overboard,” said Chief Petty Officer Heath Blanton, a watchstander with the Coast Guard 5th District command center. “Once those facts were gathered, we began the search planning using the Search And Rescue Optimal Planning System simulation model to track where the currents would drift a person based on all the environmental factors.”

Two nearby commercial vessels were notified and they changed course to assist. But the Coast Guard also provided the master of the Maersk Bintan with an area to search. A Coast Guard HC-130 from Elizabeth City was also launched to aid in the search. Before the aircraft arrived, however, Maersk Bintan radioed back to report that they had found the crewmember in the water just where the Coast Guard simulation said he would most likely be located. The man had reportedly been in the water for as much as 10 hours. 

“This was the culmination of excellent coordination and planning by the D5 Command Center and the two motor vessels that volunteered to divert and search for a mariner lost at sea,” said Brian Neilan, a watchstander with the Coast Guard 5th District Command Center. “This was a great success story, and the odds were not in favor of a good outcome.”

This happy outcome was a combination of expertise on the part of the Coast Guard, whose drift simulation model does a pretty good job, depending on conditions, of suggesting where an object will drift, and perseverance on the part of the crewmember, who evidently never gave up hope and timely action by the captain and crew of Maersk Bintan. A little good luck probably helped too.  



By Ocean Navigator