Wed, Sep 15, 2021 4:06 PM

Coastguard Nelson win international honour

The Coastguard Nelson team moments after finding out they had won big at the International Maritime Rescue Federation Awards. Photo: supplied.

Erin Bradnock

The Coastguard Nelson crew has won an international rescue award for a daring 14-hour rescue in March 2020.

Late Tuesday night the International Maritime Rescue Federation Awards presented the Outstanding Team Contribution to Maritime SAR Operations award virtually to Coastguard Nelson.

Coastguard Nelson won out over a raft of global submissions that the International Maritime Rescue Federation and award presenter Theresa Crossley described as the “strongest field yet”.

Coastguard Nelson alongside Nelson Police SAR Squad, Tasman District Harbourmaster and Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) was recognised for their rescue of the SV Ocean Gem near Rangitoto ki te Tonga (D’Urville) Island over March 18 and 19, 2020.

Amid 20 to 25 knot winds, a 12-tonne sailing yacht travelling from Hobart to Picton lost its steering and was drifting helplessly in rough Cook Straight waters.

Coastguard New Zealand predicts that had rescue agencies not intervened, the yacht was destined to drift into rocks, putting the yacht and crew of six in harm’s way.

A mayday was received by RCCNZ at 9pm on 18 March and from there a full-scale search and rescue operation was carried out.

RCCNZ advised Coastguard Nelson and police of the situation at 4am. The Coastguard crew set out on a long journey into the night on a smaller and older boat with no seats or toilets to reach the vessel.

Coastguard Nelson president Pete Kara says the award is a testament to the collaboration between the five crewmates onboard the main rescue vessel, another vessel meeting them halfway to refuel and the risk management and coordination team back at base in Nelson.

Coastguard New Zealand says communication between the Coastguard crew, RCCNZ and the Ocean Gem detailing the vessel's moving position, made the search efforts possible as they navigated a 3 to 4 meter swell in the early hours of the morning.

Ocean Gem had drifted so far out that Coastguard Nelson had to obtain a special travel exemption from Maritime New Zealand to allow them to reach the yacht.

Pete points out he was not only on duty as Coastguard Nelson president but also as the emergency manager at Nelson Marlborough District Health Board who were preparing for Aotearoa’s first Covid-19 lockdown just a few days later in March 2020.

“We were busy planning for a pandemic and lockdowns when I was getting woken up early for this. There were questions about quarantine for the boat coming in and we had to make sure everyone stayed where they were supposed to,” Pete says.

After a long passage, at 7:20am, Coastguard Nelson finally met Ocean Gem where all crew were found safe and accounted for.

The 14-hour rescue returned six people safely home, including crewmate David Hows.

"Coastguard Nelson deserve this award because as professional volunteers they put their lives and their vessel at risk to come to the aid of SV Ocean Gem and her crew of six in very difficult and challenging conditions,” David says.

"We are forever indebted to the Coastguard Nelson for the selfless work of their entire team in keeping sailors safe on the water and bringing people who get into difficulty on the ocean, home to their families."

Pete says the award is a testament to the efforts of all emergency services involved in the rescue.

“This was a complex, delicate rescue that required all emergency services to work together and put their own lives at risk. It’s fantastic to receive such a special award from IMRF, which only speaks volumes about the difficulty and bravery of the volunteers’ actions during the rescue,” Pete says.

Coastguard Nelson president Pete Kara says the team will be waiting for Alert Level 1 to celebrate their win together. Photo: supplied. 
Coastguard Nelson president Pete Kara says the team will be waiting for Alert Level 1 to celebrate their win together. Photo: supplied. 

Coastguard chief executive Callum Gillespie also noted the exceptional circumstances of this rescue and how the Coastguard Nelson crew risked their own lives to save others.

"The five-person crew travelled outside their normal area of operation to assist a yacht nearly twice the size of their rescue vessel. Whilst this search and rescue operation challenged the crew both physically and mentally, it speaks to the level of selflessness and dedication amongst Coastguard volunteers,” Callum says.

Pete says the award not only recognises the work of Coastguard Nelson but volunteer coastguards and maritime responders across the country.

“We got this award not just for us but for all the coastguard volunteers across the country who are ready 24 hours a day 365 days a year who would have done exactly the same thing,” he says.