Article written by John Jenks - currently cruising the east coast of Australia.
I think that this is important message to get out.The story relates to Australia but it could be similar situations in other countries.
August last year we lost a friend to the ocean, the skipper and the crew member were lost nothing was ever found, this is not the first time such a thing has happened. The yacht in question had all the right gear, EPIRB, Sat Phone, Liferaft, HF and VHF Radio, there was one radio message sent on 23 August 2008.
With the information I had I wrote an article in the Australian magazine, Cruising Helmsman which was published in January 2009.
The main points of the article were as follows:
Many boats in Australia that are only registered in the individual States can have the same names, it is only the registration number that is different, many boats use only the boat name when calling on radio. If a boat is Australian registered through the Shipping Registration Office in Canberra, they cannot have the same name or similar name. A boat has to be Australian Registered if going into international waters, a person purchasing a vessel overseas must register it asap if travelling on an Australian passport.
The skipper Bruce made a radio call on the emergency channel presumably the night the dissaster occured. He said that they were 100 nms east of Brisbane, they had hit a storm and the boat had been knocked down and he said they had changed course to run with the storm deploying a number of warps to slow them down. He also gave a Lat/Long. The radio message was picked up by Radio Station Adelaide and a conversation was conducted giving this information. Bruce continued to say that they were OK but wanted his position recorded as they were in this storm and riding it out. That was the last anyone heard from them.
That message was not taken any further because legislation states that a radio message such as this is not passed on unless the skipper requests it to be, or, it is requested by the Rescue Coordination Centre or a family member. So legally the radio operator recieving the message did nothing wrong, morally one would have to question, he could have set up a number of radio scheds to make sure all was well.
After some days that the yacht did not arrive a family member reported their concerns, a radio station put out a call for 'Blessed Be', the weather was not good and radio followed suit, a vessel by the name of 'Placid P' answered the call and stated they were going to Newcastle, no further action was taken. When 'Blessed Be' did not show a search started many days later between Brisbane and Newcastle, then the radio communication from the Adelaide Radio Station came to light and they changed the search area from Brisbane to Bundaberg and the distance of the search was 120 nms so it said on the commercial radio news.
During this time the search was thorough and lasted 6 days before the search was called off.
Many days after this a friend that was in the know provided me with the radio transcript, a copy of the newspaper page where the son of the crew member was interviewed stated the events that occured and I had conversations with the Rescue Coordination Centre. So it was with this info that I wrote my article.
Going through the radio transcript I noticed the Lat/Long and located this point on the charts on CMap, this Lat/Long put the mark 166.4 nms due east off the northern tip of Moreton Island near Brisbane. The question is was Bruce correct with the statement on being 100 nms off the coast and gave a wrong Lat/Long or was it the other way around?
I am not laying blame with anyone on this matter, all I want to do is make skippers aware that the safety of crew and ship totally rests on his/her shoulders and in the case of being caught in a bad situation he/she must do things by the book.
Double check information being transmitted, ask for that information to be passed on to a rescue coordination cetre, set up hourly radio scheds with the radio station, use your proper call sign as well as the name of the vessel. Strap your EPIRB to you as soon as there is some danger so you have it and dont have to find it.
The Australian Rescue Coordination is one of the best in the world but they need the information to help you when you are in need. There is a website for most countries to register their EPIRB and I know on the Australian site you can add information regarding to what you are up to and where your going, I use it all the time.
I suppose this has been triggered because that aniversary is around the corner and I feel for the families that have no closure and the thought that the search was delayed and may not have covered the entire area of possibility.
The question we must ask ourselves as Skippers or crew is what would we do? We must have a plan for the worst many people do not.
A Skipper from the USA that I met said he would not do the Captains course back home because that makes you responsible. Well, the fact is that course or no course, as a skipper you are responsible for the safety of your crew and ship/yacht.
I would enjoy any comments here. - John Jenks.
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