Search and rescue H.E.R.O.s need to be recognised

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The International Maritime Rescue Federation is calling for nominations for its H.E.R.O Awards, to recognise the unsung maritime heroes who battle against this frightening statistic, as the H.E.R.O award (Honouring Excellence in Rescue Operations) deadline approaches on 28th July, 2017.

The H.E.R.O Awards were launched last year and recognise anyone involved in maritime search and rescue who deserve recognition for exceptional service.

Last year’s winners included Captain Herve Lepage, master of the CMA CGM Rossini 5,570teu container ship who responded to a distress signal from a catamaran capsized by a whale off the South African coast on 18th October 2015.

Captain Lepage was also a member of the French Sea Rescue Service in his home town of La Rochelle and it was thanks to his skill and expertise and the dedication of his crew that they were able to rescue the two men from the capsized catamaran’s life raft.

Both yachtsmen were down below when the catamaran stopped and then swung hard to port. One of them rushed onto deck and saw a whale on their port side, by which time water was flooding into a large hole in the hull.

They threw the life raft overboard and rushed to get emergency supplies only to find that the life raft rapidly drifted 200 metres away and they only had a small tender to reach it.  They managed to grab an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) and transmitted a VHF mayday call, but the tender’s engine failed so they could not reach the life raft and as they watched, the catamaran capsized.

The two men were left in the tender with winds approaching 50 knots, six to seven metre swells and night falling.  During the night, a wave bigger than the rest flipped the boat over and the men lost all supplies and flares apart from six days supply of fresh water.

Luckily, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre at Gris Nez, a long way away on the north coast of France had received their emergency beacon signal and quickly alerted the South African MRCC, and a huge rescue effort began.  Five ships in the area were diverted to the position, and in the morning the East London Sea Rescue volunteers and a military Oryx helicopter was launched.

By the morning, the two yachtsmen could see the ships on the horizon but they had now drifted a long way from the capsized catamaran.  The first ships arriving at the wreck reported no signs of life and an empty life raft, but none followed the EPIRB signal which was drifting down the coast.

Captain Leparge, calculated where the EPIRB positions – despite a two-hour time delay – might suggest the yachtsmen would be.  As dark was falling he made the decision to turn back along the drift line they had been searching and by sheer chance using binoculars, one of the crew spotted a flash of orange, the collar of the life jackets the two survivors were wearing.

The captain then had to skilfully manoeuvre the container vessel alongside the little yacht tender leaving the two crew only a few meters to paddle to the side of the ship.  The younger man was able to make the swim and climb the rope ladder up the side of the ship, but the older man was too exhausted and lost his grip, falling back into the sea losing his life jacket.  Refusing to give up, the container ships crew then managed to drop a helicopter strop on a rope over board that the older man could reach and somehow working together they managed to get him onboard.

Bruce Reid (pictured), CEO, IMRF said: “This is just one example of an amazing action taken by the captain and his crew to find and rescue two yachtsmen against all the odds.  The H.E.R.O Awards offer an invaluable way to raise awareness of the excellent work done by all those involved in the maritime SAR community, rewarding the selfless efforts and achievements of the many individuals who make sacrifices to save lives on the water.

“If you know of anyone who has done something extraordinary to save life at sea, I would urge you to nominate them for a H.E.R.O Award now. This may be someone who has actually taken part in a lifesaving mission at sea, someone in a coordination centre or other shoreside role, or who has contributed to maritime search and rescue in a ‘back room’ role. The Awards recognise exceptional performance in SAR, both by individuals and organisations, all of whom are making a major contribution to SAR, progressing IMRF’s mission to improve global maritime SAR and prevent loss of life in the world’s waters.”

The closing date for nominations is 28 July, 2017 and there are four categories in the IMRF H.E.R.O Awards 2017:

Individual award recognising outstanding contribution by an individual in a maritime SAR operation

Team award, recognising outstanding contribution by a team or teams in the maritime SAR ecosystem working together to save lives, sponsored by McMurdo.

Innovation and Technology award recognising new products and technologies developed that improve the work and success of SAR organisations.

The Vladimir Maksimov Lifetime achievement award recognising outstanding service to SAR by an individual or organisation, sponsored by Inmarsat.

Nominations can be made online at alternatively email or call 0044 (0)1569 767405 for an application form.

The H.E.R.O. Awards 2017 recognise actions that took place, or were completed, in the period from 1st July 2016 to 30th June 2017. Any individual or organisation anywhere in the world can be nominated for a H.E.R.O Award.

All of the submissions will then be assessed by the judges and the winners announced at an awards dinner held at the RNLI, Poole in the UK and online, 2nd November, 2017.

The H.E.R.O awards 2017 are supported by IMRF lead sponsor Orolia/McMurdo – global leader in emergency response and readiness and sponsor Inmarsat – global satellite owner and operator which provides mobile and fixed communications services to the maritime industry.