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Old 11-26-2007, 11:44 AM   #1
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The following appeared in the November 18, 2007 New York Post newspaper. It is very long, but I am posting it in all its length. I've edited it a bit, only removing paragraph spacing. It's dramatic enough without all that extra punches for drama.

SETTING SAIL INTO HORROR

MAIDEN VOYAGE PUTS NYERS IN PERFECT STORM

By BRAD HAMILTON and BRENDAN SCOTT

November 18, 2007 -- As Andy Pfanner brought groceries and other supplies onboard his new sailing yacht three weeks ago for a journey from Long Island to the Caribbean, he was preparing for a relaxed pleasure cruise with his wife and close friends. He would soon face his own perfect storm.

Pfanner, 45, a master woodworker who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has worked with a host of well-heeled clients and been featured in Architectural Digest and other magazines. His other passion is sailing. He's often ventured from his summer house in Cutchogue into the Atlantic, sometimes traveling as far south as Brazil, where he owned another home.

This trip would be different. He would get to share his passion for the seas with his wife, Carolyn Wong, who didn't usually go with him on extended excursions. Wong, 44, had her own career as a fashion designer - she worked for Victoria's Secret, J.Crew and Vivienne Tam before starting her own line recently - and was prone to seasickness. Joining them would be Pfanner's best friend, Kurt Raymann, a successful former trader with Credit Suisse who retired a few years ago and moved from New York to Zurich, and two other pals from Pfanner's native Switzerland.

It would be the maiden voyage of Pfanner's new vessel, the Albatross, a Valiant built in Gordonsville, Texas, in 1995. The 42-foot beauty had a "blue water" rating, meaning it was sturdy enough to travel through virtually any sea. Designed in the 1970s, the vessel is an extremely durable, single-mast cutter with watertight hatches and small windows - and a price tag of about $300,000. Valiant 42s have circumnavigated the globe countless times. At 6-foot-5, Pfanner is a big man with a big personality. Boyish, boisterous and constantly smiling, he has sailed for years and owned at least two other boats, friends said. They said he was supremely confident at the helm, having once steered through a tropical storm without incident. "Andy is Mr. Adventure," said a longtime friend.

It's unclear if Pfanner was aware that on Oct. 29, the very day he and his crew stocked the Albatross with supplies, a hurricane was taking shape in the central Caribbean. "That's something we just don't know," said one friend.

In New York, the weather was clear - and the prospects sunny. The plan was to take the Albatross to Bermuda, then to Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands just east of Puerto Rico. The group would have weeks to sail around in balmy temperatures as late fall enveloped New York.

Four days into their journey, the weather turned. A tropical storm swamped Hispaniola and Cuba, causing flooding and mudslides and killing 148 people in Haiti. It then re-formed and headed for open water. Once over the Atlantic, the storm rapidly gained strength, picking up speed and racing up the Eastern Seaboard. Early in the day on Nov. 2, the storm achieved hurricane status. Dubbed Noel, it became the fifth hurricane of the season - and the deadliest. And it was headed straight for the Albatross.

Pfanner's friends don't know how much information he and his crew had about Noel or if they considered turning back. But the boat, a few hundred miles due north of Bermuda and due east of Washington, was soon pummeled by heavy rain, waves and wind.

On Nov. 3 at 7:32 a.m., the Coast Guard received a report from the Bermuda Rescue Coordination Center. The Albatross, 270 miles north of the island, had radioed a distress, saying it faced waves of 20 to 25 feet and winds of 42 knots - about 50 mph. "Three of the five crew members wanted to get off the boat," said Coast Guard spokesman Benjamin Strong. "Two of the three were seasick. One had a minor head laceration." Also, the mainsail was torn. But there was good news. Pfanner indicated that he had enough fuel to make it to Bermuda, his engines were intact and the boat was not taking on water. A Coast Guard station in Norfolk, Va., spoke by radio with the boat and told the Albatross to continue on to Bermuda and check in via satellite phone every 30 minutes.

The weather worsened. At 8:19 a.m., the Albatross reported waves were increasing in size. It called in again 32 minutes later to say the boat had taken a wave over its bow. At 9:14 a.m., Pfanner sent up a satellite distress beacon, which allowed any passing vessel to know about the Albatross's condition and location.

The first to receive the message was another Coast Guard station - this one in Boston, prompting a call to an Air Force base in Cape Cod, which said it could scramble a rescue team in 15 minutes. "Sometimes they'll parachute Air Force para-rescue people down if things look pretty dire," said Strong. "This was a pretty miserable storm."

At 9:55 a.m., Bermuda Rescue reported having just spoken with the Albatross and that conditions were "no longer deteriorating." At 10:37 a.m., Pfanner's distress beacon was picked up by a Japanese container ship, the Martorell, carrying a load of 5,000 Mercedes and Chrysler autos from Bremerhaven, Germany to Charleston, SC. It radioed the Albatross and said it would come to the sailors' aid.

The captain of the Martorell, then 90 miles southeast of the Albatross, told Pfanner he could rendezvous with him in about five hours. It actually took more than seven hours. By then, the crew of the Albatross - some delirious with seasickness and panicking about their situation - were fighting about what to do. "Andy said they just wanted to mutiny," said a friend.

"They said, 'You sat us here for 24 hours and we have to get off the boat.' He said the crew threatened him with physical violence if he didn't send a distress signal." Pfanner's many years sailing through rough waters didn't seem to make a difference. "When you get in weather like this, it doesn't matter your experience level," said Strong.

At 11:46 a.m., the Martorell complained to the Coast Guard that it couldn't communicate with the Albatross. It would arrive at the boat's location in four hours, the ship said. But four hours later, at 3:37 p.m., the Martorell was still 30 miles away. It reported 50 mph winds and 33-foot seas.

At 4:58 p.m., the Martorell radioed the Coast Guard again, saying it had re-established communications with the Albatross and estimated a rendezvous in one hour. It said it would be in touch with the sailing vessel every 15 minutes to go over proposed rescue plans.

Darkness began to fall - and the storm again gathered strength. The sea now summoned waves as high as 40 feet, a terrifying wall of water. At 5:18 p.m., the Martorell reported it was still about seven miles away and could not see the Albatross, which was making preparations to abandon ship, it said. All five of its crew members had on life vests.

The plan was for the Martorell - at 645 feet long, more than 15 times the size of the Albatross - to take an upwind position, shielding the smaller craft from waves and wind, and making it safe for the crew to transfer from one vessel to the other. At 5:38 p.m., the master of the Martorell called the Albatross. For the first time, the sailing yacht came into sight. At 6:11 p.m., nearly 11 hours after the first distress call, the Martorell moved into position to attempt a rescue. It was nearly dark. The wind continued to howl and the waves crested at 40 feet.

The ship reported to the Coast Guard that if someone were to fall into the water, "We will immediately contact you." "They were going to put a cargo net down the side, which they did," said Lt. Chris White, assistant command center supervisor at the Coast Guard's facility in Norfolk. "And they were going to lower strobe lights down to each of the five individuals of the Albatross. Then there was a harness that they were going to lower down to the ship and pull them up one by one.

"For a reason I don't know, that plan was abandoned." Instead of being hoisted up, the beleaguered crew leapt into the water and swam toward the cargo netting. The challenge would be to grab the nets in roiling seas, then climb up to the Martorell's deck - about 100 feet above. "The folks on the Albatross appeared to have panicked and they all jumped - they all abandoned the Albatross at the same time and swam toward the cargo net," White said. "Imagine yourself being on this sailing vessel and seeing this monstrous ship next to you. Given the conditions they endured - they were seasick and battered - I can't fault them for being scared."

Three of the five were able to grab hold of the cargo net, White said. "That's when the other two went missing," he said. Wong and Raymann, Pfanner's wife and best friend, vanished. The Martorell immediately reported the accident, radioing at 7:37 p.m. that two people had entered the water. It repeated the message three minutes later, making sure the Coast Guard had its exact position and stressing that both missing sailors were wearing their life jackets.

A massive search ensued. The crew of the Martorell immediately began to comb the area. The Coast Guard dispatched a C-130 rescue plane from Elizabeth City, NC, and put out a request for assistance from any and all vessels in the area. An HH-60 Coast Guard Blackhawk helicopter in Bermuda was readied. But conditions were about as bad as they can get.

"It was dark, and with the winds and the waves, it's easy to lose sight of somebody," said Strong. Still, there was hope: The water temperature was relatively warm - about 73 degrees - and more help was on the way. The sea slowly began to calm. At 7:51 p.m., the Coast Guard directed the Martorell to begin an "expanding square search." At 8:56 p.m., the C-130 buzzed overhead, joining the effort.

But 10 hours later, there was no sign of Wong or Raymann. At 6:25 a.m. on Nov. 4, the Martorell reported that the winds had calmed to about 30 mph and the waves were just under 20 feet high. The sun was up and visibility was good, it said. The ship checked in again at 9:17 a.m. and said the search continued.

Later that day - at 6:01 p.m. - the USS Carter Hall, a Navy amphibious landing vessel, arrived and joined the others. Coast Guard crews onboard the Blackhawk chopper and an HU-25 Falcon jet from Cape Cod lent their assistance. The Joe Aspen, a Norwegian-flagged chemical tanker, also steamed in.

The next day, at 2:48 p.m., the Carter Hall found the Albatross and sent a small craft to board it. At 3:53 p.m., it reported that the Albatross was empty and there was no sign that the missing crew members had been back onboard. The sailing yacht's mast was broken but its hull had held.

At 6:34 p.m. on Nov. 5, the search was called off. It had covered 1,300 square miles. The accident claimed the lives of two people who had enjoyed success and a wide circle of friends. "They were both very talented, young, and had a lot to give," said a friend. Wong, who won a design award when she graduated from the Parsons School in 1987, had just launched a clothing company and was looking forward to developing her own line.

"She was a very special person," said a friend. "Very spiritual and optimistic. Always smiling." A mutual friend ran into Raymann and his wife, Isabel, in SoHo in September. "They were just so happy," said the friend. "She had a bad skiing accident. She told me Kurt had been taking care of her 24/7."

Pfanner is struggling to cope. "He's devastated," said another friend. "It was a senseless thing. He kept saying, 'I told them not to abandon ship.'"

brad.hamilton@nypost.com
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Old 11-26-2007, 12:39 PM   #2
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This story horrified me more than most disaster at sea stories, and I'm afraid that I judge the skipper of the yacht harshly. Yet I believe there are many lessons to be learned from their experience. I don't want to cause these people more pain, but I also don't want to read about any more of these avoidable problems.

As I see it, the first problem is with this likeable, competent, egotistical skipper. "They said he was supremely confident at the helm, having once steered through a tropical storm without incident. "Andy is Mr. Adventure," said a longtime friend."

He was the one with experience, yet he either didn't know about this storm until it hit them, or he felt he and his boat were capable of sailing through it - again. If he didn't know about it, shame on him. If he did know about it and chose to continue rather than head into port to wait it out, then he was irresponsible, both with his boat and with his inexperienced crew. His wife was prone to seasickness, something that can only get worse as the weather deteriorates.

And finally, once in the bad weather, his crew panicked, which I assume is because of their inexperience and/or they lost confidence in his abilities. And, of course, due to their inexperience they couldn't possibly know that the safest place for them to be was in their floating, intact vessel - NOT jumping into the ocean to try to get to a "safer" place.

I can go on, and on, and on about the mistakes that were made. Better to focus on what SHOULD have been done - from the beginning of the trip to each step leading up to his turning on his EPIRB.

Some of what should have been done was probably not possible - that is, educating his crew. EVERYBODY who goes offshore, IMO, should read about the horrific storms that people have been rescued from, and the boats they were on that came through those horrific storms without benefit of crew to steer them safely. This is the lesson taught by the 1979 Fastnet storm, the Queen's Birthday Storm in the South Pacific, and even the "Perfect Storm" on the East coast of the US. Seeing the horrific dangers that people face when abandoning their vessel in such conditions should be emphasized over, and over, and over again until they get it.

I have more to say, but it's somebody else's turn.
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Old 11-26-2007, 02:11 PM   #3
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It's unclear if Pfanner was aware that on Oct. 29, the very day he and his crew stocked the Albatross with supplies, a hurricane was taking shape in the central Caribbean. "That's something we just don't know," said one friend.
Our forum member "StormW" was covering the buildup of that storm for days, as well as the storm itself.

http://www.cruiserlog.com/forums/vbseo301.php?action=forum&oldid=53

It is all down to "good seamanship" or lack thereof. My deepest sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives. What happened makes me angry though.
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Old 11-26-2007, 02:16 PM   #4
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JeanneP,

In every facet of life there are those who will make bad decisions. The unfortunate thing with our passion it is deadly. I think a lot of this could be avoided. Not aware of the coming weather is completely irresponsible. There is always turning back, and going inside.

Once between Cabo, and P.V. I got some bad weather close hauled with some steep seas. When the boat started to drop, and pound. I turned back with a scrap of a headsail to steady the boat. The engine running, and in reverse. I hardly lost any ground at all in the next 4 hours. Then the wind started to drop, and then the seas. I soon put Frolic back on course, and made Cabo the next day.

We hear all the time of vessels abandoned, and lives lost. Only to late find the boat intact. That is where the phrase comes in. You only step up into a liferaft, or off the boat!
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Old 11-26-2007, 03:43 PM   #5
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Personally I'm not so quick to judge the skipper... I was in the Dom Rep when Noel hit and there was no warning, it wasn't on the news or radio and the initial rain was no warning in itself since it was stilll the rainy season... I prefer to give this guy the benifit of the doubt, in that his intentions were at least good... no question some bad decisions were made... but who would ever imagine their close friends would mutiny... if anything I think this is a great example of how one should be extremely careful when choosing who you take out with you... even if it is just pleasure cruise... no doubt the onus is on the captain, but I think it is more about his choice in friends/crew than his seamanship.

To my mind the best solution would have been to lock the mutineers up in a stateroom, if possible, so that he and the his loyal crewman could keep working instead of arguing with the others... which I'm sure he could do as large as he is and dealing with seasick crew (note to self: Ensure master cabin has a good locking door). In situations like this I think the captains responsibility is the same as the governments during time of war, safeguard the crew/citizens... even if they don't like it.
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Old 11-26-2007, 04:05 PM   #6
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[QUOTE=name='atavist' date='Nov 26 2007, 10:43 AM' post='15210']

Personally I'm not so quick to judge the skipper... I was in the Dom Rep when Noel hit and there was no warning, it wasn't on the news or radio and the initial rain was no warning in itself since it was stilll the rainy season..."

now that is interesting news. Up here in the states, of course those who predicted the 2007 season to be the worst hurricane season in decades due to global warming etc. made sure that we were bombarded by news of the storm long before it even became a storm. Therefore, I, and perhaps a bunch of others, immediately questioned why anyone in their right mind would sail off into a questionable weather system. Knowing that it wasn't even broadcast in more immediate areas is a revelation that at least would explain that issue.

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Old 11-26-2007, 08:56 PM   #7
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"Adventure is the first sign of incompetence"...polar explorer Vilhjalmur Stefanson

One of my favorite quotes. Whenever I hear someone use the word "adventure", I cringe...to be Mr. Adventure, well I think it says it all.
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Old 11-26-2007, 10:21 PM   #8
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I do blame the skipper. At 11 am October 29, while our unfortunate skipper was shopping for food for his trip, the National Hurricane center had issued an advisory regarding Tropical Storm Noel. And yes, it formed without warning in the Dominican Republic. If you cruise the Caribbean, that's reality - late-season hurricanes can form without warning within several hours from land.

But the boat in question was in New York, about 2,000 miles away. He had five days' warning of the trouble to come. Now either he was aware of the storm but chose to go anyway because he had already "steered through a tropical storm without incident," or he failed to keep apprised of the weather, which is irresponsible. But all the news media late October 29, and all day October 30, were commenting on this storm forming in the Caribbean. Look at StormW's report on the afternoon of October 29, and the associated storm track - http://www.cruiserlog.com/forums/ind...showtopic=5656

The storm "reformed" on October 29 while he was still in port, not four days later. They sailed for four days directly towards the storm.

There is no indication that his crew were experienced, or that he expected them to be. Clearly his wife wasn't - she didn't accompany him on his sails because she got seasick. If she got seasick on Long Island Sound, whatever possessed this man to sail into a storm? Seasickness is horrible, and I've observed young strapping football players reduced to quivering, miserable babies by seasickness in a moderate chop, less than 15 knots of wind. Imagine how such a person would fare, and behave, in 15 to 20-foot seas? When a person is that miserable, it should be no surprise that they turn their brain off. I look at their foolish behavior as blind panic. And they were right, he sat them in horrendous seas and weather for 24 hours and they were beyond miserable, they wanted to get out. This has happened to people who have made it halfway across the South Pacific - everything was fine until the bad weather didn't stop after an hour or two, and then they wanted off the boat. At least one perfectly sound boat was abandoned at sea for this reason.

A friend of ours used to drive a taxi on Nantucket Island, an island about 40 miles off Massachusetts' mainland, during his summer breaks from college. He related a story about one day when the weather was rather bad, he was waiting at the ferry terminal for the day trippers and vacationers to get off the ferry from the mainland. A couple got into his taxi and said "we don't care how much it costs, we want you to drive us to the mainland!" The ferry ride was so rough that they turned off their brains, could not understand that their only options were to get back on the ferry, or onto a small plane.

If one chose one's crew by their experience in dangerous weather, there wouldn't be enough crew to go around. If you look at the crewfinder postings in this forum, you will find that the majority have minimal to zero experience of any kind, let alone coping in bad weather. I think it's unfair to blame the victims for being unprepared for being at sea in a tropical storm/hurricane when most likely they had never had an experience even close to what they were going through. I have no doubt that the skipper was perfectly aware of his crew's lack of experience and besides, for someone with experience he appears to have been sadly lacking in common sense when it came to blue water sailing.

Nobody wants to tell their friends who are going with them for a sailing adventure that things can go horribly wrong, and weather can be really dreadful. Most people who have never sailed before would refuse to go after reading the 1979 Fastnet storm, or "The Perfect Storm", or "Rescue in the Pacific"...... or they might expect everybody who needed rescuing to be rescued, and not understand that the safest place for them to be would be on that miserable, sickening, uncomfortable sailboat.

His loss is horrendous, and my heart goes out to him and to the family of his friend. I mean no ill by dissecting this, but rather hope that some good can come from this tragedy through the education of those who have yet to venture into blue water. And part of that learning experience is pointing out errors and assigning blame.
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Old 11-26-2007, 11:19 PM   #9
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hmmm.... ok, I somehow missed that they were leaving from NY... that was a pretty bad decision.
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Old 11-27-2007, 01:47 AM   #10
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Caveat :-

Some 3 weeks after the event two reporters from a tabloid newspaper write up a story on the events surrounding the loss of life of two people off a boat. Returning to read the original story to see what the skipper himself had to say. It appears that what the skipper knew or did not know is hearsay - the skipper's own account not given, not known. The story written around hearsay information provided by "friends" who were not on the boat on its ill fated voyage.

A very sad story. A story that has many unknowns : the skipper and the crew's knowledge of a potential storm prior to setting off. What actions were taken when conditions changed for the worst? Why did they abandon ship by jumping into the sea? Did the yacht have a life raft.? Did the skipper and crew have any idea how difficult it would be to climb up the vertical side of a ship using a cargo net ? did the Ship's captain know that climbing using a cargo net requires real strength and ability, that in doing so there was a danger of injury and falling? In this instance it is reported that they had to climb a hundred feet up the net during a storm with high seas - where was the yacht, when they were trying to climb ? Did the two who were lost, reach the net ?

The 29th October forecast provided a position for the 2nd November to be at 27 degrees 30 minutes north x 75 degrees west, did the skipper know that actually the storm would be on 02 November 2100Z at 31 degrees 24 mins North x 72 degrees 24 minutes West 70 KT...becoming extratropical - 311 miles (270 nm) NNE of the forecast position ??

Reminding ourselves of Fastnet Force 10.

John Rousmaniere was there, and he tells the tragic story of the greatest disaster in the history of yachting as only one who has sailed through the teeth of a killer storm can.

In August 1979, 303 yachts began the 600-mile Fastnet Race from the Isle of Wight off the southwest coast of England to Fastnet Rock off the Irish coast and back.

It began in fine weather, then suddenly became a terrifying ordeal. A Force 10, sixty-knot storm swept across the North Atlantic with a speed that confounded forecasters, slamming into the fleet with epic fury. For twenty hours, 2,500 men and women were smashed by forty-foot breaking waves, while rescue helicopters and lifeboats struggled to save them. By the time the race was over, fifteen people had died, twenty-four crews had abandoned ship, five yachts had sunk, 136 sailors had been rescued, and only 85 boats had finished the race.

Question, if the skippers and organisers of this race had knowledge of the storm would they have left to race?
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Old 11-27-2007, 04:49 AM   #11
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did the Ship's captain know that climbing using a cargo net requires real strength and ability, that in doing so there was a danger of injury and falling?
I gather that the cargo net was "plan B", and not the planned rescue procedure. To quote from the news report: "They were going to put a cargo net down the side, which they did," said Lt. Chris White, assistant command center supervisor at the Coast Guard's facility in Norfolk. "And they were going to lower strobe lights down to each of the five individuals of the Albatross. Then there was a harness that they were going to lower down to the ship and pull them up one by one.

"For a reason I don't know, that plan was abandoned." Instead of being hoisted up, the beleaguered crew leapt into the water and swam toward the cargo netting."



One of the lessons learned from the Fastnet storm was that most of the boats abandoned survived the storm (5 boats sunk, but 24 boats were abandoned). Many people, in their panic, left their floating boat for a small life raft and died for their folly while their boat survived the storm.

Something similar occurred in the Queen's Birthday Storm in 1994. With the exception of one boat deliberately scuttled by its owners and another lost with all hands and no explanation of what happened, the boats that were abandoned survived the storm. Two were returned to their owners, the other two wound up washing up on island reefs and were stripped by the locals and then washed out to sea where they disappeared and probably finally sunk. There were many other boats that went through the same horrible storm but did not call for help and made it through, shaken but safe.

Lots of lessons learned, but you have to be a motivated sailor to even know about them. Friends along for the ride and a wife who didn't participate in sailing because she got seasick aren't people I would expect to know very much about the mechanics or risks of sailing. For them, when something went wrong I would guess that their panic was due to their lack of knowledge that others had survived these experiences, and their ignorance of what was going on. We've read or heard of this before. Frightening, isn't it?
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Old 11-27-2007, 05:11 AM   #12
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Another unknown in this sad tale - and a question "does a captain of a rescue ship have a responsibility to use safe means of rescue where possible"
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