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AMVER ship wins award for 2011 yacht rescue

by Sail-World Cruising Round-up on 28 Aug 2012
Elle crew rescue - a very difficult operation .. .
More and more yachts that get into trouble on the high seas are rescued, not by official rescue personnel, but by passing ships. Bermundan-registered ship The Oleander will receive a special award in WashingtonDC for its successful rescue of a yacht in 2011. The ship has already received a Safety at Sea award in London for the same rescue.

The Bermuda cargo ship rescued the distressed crew members of the Elle last November.

The US Consulate will recognise their act of heroism and bravery with a special award ceremony in Washington DC on October 4, organised as part of the US Coast Guard’s Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue (AMVER) programme.

AMVER is a worldwide search and rescue network that aims to assist ships and aircraft in distress at sea.

Said US Consul General Grace Shelton: 'Ships earn an AMVER award by being ‘on plot’ at least 128 days of the calendar year.

'The Oleander, although it did not meet that minimum requirement, did in fact save four sailors from a 46ft sailboat foundering in the Atlantic last November, and I want to recognise their bravery. '

The vessel is registered to Container Ship Management, Ltd (CSM).

Vice president of vessel operations Blair Simmons explained that the Oleander did not meet the 128-day period because the ship was being renovated.

'Between January and April 2011 the Oleander was undertaking a major life-extension refit in Holland, and as such, the vessel did not achieve the minimum 128 days ‘on plot’ with the AMVER system to again earn one of their annual awards,' he said.

'Nonetheless, Bermuda Container Line and the owners of the Oleander are incredibly proud of the officers and crew on the vessel who remain committed to offer all possible assistance to fellow mariners that may find themselves in need of assistance on the high seas.'

The ships served in the rescue programme for varying lengths of time, with the Eagle Atlanta of AET Ltd serving for the longest period of five consecutive years.
.........................

Rescue of the Elle:

The 46ft sailboat was one of several vessels involved in the first leg of the NARC rally from Newport, Rhode Island, to Virginia who found themselves battling unexpectedly harsh weather.

The boat’s captain and owner, Foster Ashton, said that when the boats first left port on Wednesday, the weather was gusty, but calmed as they approached the gulf stream.

However, he said the crew elected to steer away from the recommended route and found themselves pushing against a current, burning through their fuel supply.

'By the time we got out of that area, I had about 12 to 15 gallons of reserve fuel and half a tank, not enough to complete the journey in this weather,' he said.

He said that the weather rapidly turned to the worse, with powerful gusts and high waves battering the ship. At some point, a hard hit launched Mr Schweitzel across the cabin and into a cabinet, cracking his ribs.

The crew attempted to continue to the Island, but as the weather continued to batter the ship the crew decided that they needed assistance.

'Eventually, we came to the point of no return,' Mr Ashton said. 'I knew for sure we weren’t going to make it.'

On Sunday morning, help arrived in the form of the cargo ship Oleander, who was en route to Bermuda and volunteered to assist the wounded vessel.

The vessel manoeuvred itself to block Elle from the wind to allow the sailboat to pull alongside, but the damaged vessel struck the Oleander hard attempting to pull next to the ship.

'That was the worst part,' Mr Schweitzel said. 'I thought, here we are in a 40ft sail boat and here is this 400ft boat. They’re going to run right over us.'

The crew of the Oleander worked to pull the crew of the damaged sailboat aboard, but the first sailor to attempt to cross over, Brian Finn, slipped and fell into the water between the two vessels.

He remained in the water for close to half an hour as the crew attempted to pull him to safety.

Eventually, all four crew members were brought aboard the Oleander and Elle was set adrift. Mr Ashton said: 'All the while I was thinking, this didn’t have to happen. That sailboat was my home.'

Both men praised the work and efforts of the crew of the Oleander, who they said took them in and did everything possible to help them, from giving them clean clothes to paying for their taxi.

'I really cannot say enough about them,' Mr Ashton said.

While he said he is extremely disappointed by what happened, he said the most important thing is that the crew is safe and sound.

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