“I grabbed hold of him and pulled him to safety”
Able Seaman Vicente Somera has been honoured for bravery at sea by the IMO, recognising his efforts along with the crew of the Lars Maersk to rescue a yachtsman in distress in 2014.
A daring rescue of a stranded yachtsman was celebrated at an event in London on 19th November, when Maersk Line Able Seaman Vicente Somera received a certificate of commendation from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) at its annual Exceptional Bravery at Sea awards.
Vicente was part of the crew of the Lars Maersk in September 2014 when it answered the distress call of Stephen Collins, a solo yachtsman sailing from Australia to New Zealand. Stephen had been battling a diesel fuel leak, as well as damage to the yacht’s sail and boom and had fallen several times.
Stranded in stormy seas
In gale force winds, the crew of the Lars Maersk tried to fire a messenger line to the yacht. The first attempt failed, and the second time it reached Stephen but failed to hold, and in the confusion the line was pulled back in. Stephen jumped into the water to retrieve the line, but he missed and was stranded in the stormy seas. Strong swells made it difficult for the crew to spot him, and at one point they feared he was lost under the vessel.
The crew refused to give up, however. “We always believed that if we kept him in sight we could rescue him,” said Vicente.
After three hours of manoeuvring the vessel closer to the yachtsman, and several more attempts to reach him with a line, Stephen eventually managed to grab on to a lifebelt, next to the accommodation ladder.
Bracing the gangway
Vicente decided to put himself between the gangway and the side of the ship, bracing it with his feet to steady it and allow his colleagues to pull Stephen up. All the while the wind and water continued to batter the Lars Maersk.
“He was suffering from hypothermia from being in the water for so long, so I grabbed hold of him and pulled him up to safety.”
Maersk Line Able Seaman Vicente Somera receives his certificate from the International Maritime Organisation Secretary General Koji Sekimizu.
Stephen had been in the water for most of the four hour rescue, but fortunately the crew were able to give him medical attention and his condition improved enough to allow him to stay onboard the vessel as it continued its voyage to New Zealand.
Training helps you focus
The Able Seaman was nominated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority for his role in the rescue of Stephen Collins, but the first time Vicente knew about the commendation was just before he finished his last contract, almost a year after the rescue.
“I missed a call from my crewing manager, so I rang him back and he was asking me if my wife had a passport. I thought this was very strange, as usually crew wives do not join their husbands on vessels. Then he told me I was going to London, to the IMO. I was shocked.”
All Maersk Line seafarers receive regular training on rescuing people in the water, and it was this familiarity that Vicente believes helped him and his colleagues save Stephen. “Every month we do drills, and we have the tools we need to reach people in the ocean. I wasn’t afraid when we were trying to reach him, and I think that’s because we have training and familiarisation and that helps you focus on what you needed to do.”
Following the rule of the sea
Aslak Ross, Head of Marine Standards, was there to see Vicente receive his certificate from the Secretary General of the IMO, Koji Sekimizu. He said:
“Able Seaman Somera and the crew of the Lars Maersk were following the rule of the sea when they went to rescue Mr Collins. We are delighted that Vicente Somera and the crew of the Lars Maersk have been recognised by the IMO for their role in the rescue of Mr Collins.”
Somera’s certificate was one of four awarded on the night of 19 November, with the medal of bravery, the IMO’s highest award, going to Aviation Survival Technician Christopher Leon of the United States Coast Guard for his role in the rescue of four ocean rowers.
In 2011 the crew of the Charlotte Maersk also received the IMO’s special bravery award for their efforts to battle a fire on deck in July 2010.
*Image source: www.amsa.gov.au