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SOS unheeded - abandoned cruising sailors rescued by divers

by Nancy Knudsen on 1 Oct 2012
Nananu-i-Ra Island, where the incident happened SW
The idea that today your call for rescue will be quickly acted upon is a myth in some regions of the world. Three cruising sailors - an Australian and two Spaniards - had to be rescued this week by divers from a Fijian resort after their yacht was swept onto rocks and their SOS calls went unheeded by local authorities.

The incident happened near Nananu-i-Ra Island, about three-quarters of a nautical mile off the coast of Rakiraki. Fiji is widely cruised by leisure sailors in the Pacific, and is considered one of the more 'developed' in the region.

Safari Lodge of Nananu-i-Ra Island director Warren Francis told the Fiji Times the sailors were sailing near the Vatu-i-Ra passage when a 'rogue wave' swept their yacht onto the reef.

'Our divers intercepted a mayday distress call around 7am on Saturday. They then contacted MSAF (Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji) Lautoka office requesting for assistance.

'They referred us to MSAF, Suva office who failed to return our calls,' Mr Francis said.

He said the three sailors were also calling for help on the yacht's satellite phone and radio.

'They radioed the Navy in Suva who told them that the Navy does not work on weekends and could not provide assistance for them,' Mr Francis said.

He said by this time, the lodge had also contacted neighbouring resorts for their help to rescue the men who were more than 2.5nm away from the island.

'We kept in contact with the three yachtsmen from the time we heard their distress call right until the afternoon.

'After all of our efforts to get help failed, we left the lodge around 3.15pm with a doctor, a diver and two crew men.

'Our workers travelled for two and half hours to reach the men. They found them exhausted and tired but no medical assistance was required.

He said that the three had sailed back to Nananu-i-Ra. Their yacht , though damaged, had not been holed by the efforts of the exhausted sailors. They intend to sail unaided to Vuda Marina for repairs.

Meanwhile, the Fiji Navy's operations office have denied to local reporters at the Fiji Times that Mr Francis' claims that it did not act on the distress call from the foreigners.

The Navy confirmed receiving the distress call at its Radio 3DP in Suva and then broadcasting the call and the position of the yacht to all nearby vessels.

But it is thanks to the generosity and skill of the divers and their multi-skilled team, and not to the MSAF, the yacht is now on its way safely.
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