Thursday, November 28, 2013

Shipping Delegates Applaud Heroes at IMO Exceptional Bravery at Sea Awards

International Maritime Organization Thanks the Truly Brave for Personal Sacrifices
Shipping News Feature

UK – CHINA – US – WORLDWIDE – On Monday evening the massed ranks of delegates at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) headquarters in London to celebrate the achievements of the true heroes of the shipping world with the presentation of this year’s IMO Awards for Exceptional Bravery at Sea which went to both Aviation Survival Technician Second Class Randy J Haba and Aviation Survival Technician Third Class Daniel J Todd of the United States Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and posthumously to Mr Jinguo Yang, nominated by the Government of China, and who sacrificed his own life whilst trying to rescue a person in distress on the ferry upon which he worked after a collision with a cargo ship.

On 15 March 2012, the ferry Tong Chang Qi Du 11 collided with the cargo ship Shun Qiang 28 on the Yangtze River. The ferry’s hull was damaged and it started sinking with 33 persons on board, 31 of whom were subsequently saved during the search and rescue operation and transferred to a rescue ship. Mr Jinguo Yang was a crew member aboard the ferry and had already been rescued.

One passenger aboard was trapped in his truck, which had been severely damaged in the collision and, without care for his own safety, Mr Jinguo jumped back onto the sinking ferry and attempted, unsuccessfully, to prize open the jammed door of the truck in order to rescue the trapped passenger. Unfortunately, the ferry lost its stability and capsized and Mr Jinguo was unable to save the passenger’s life and indeed, whilst persevering in the attempt, he lost his own. Although he had the opportunity to escape at the last moment, he chose instead, at the cost of his own life, to stay and continue attempts to rescue the trapped passenger. Two hours later his body was recovered from the Yangtze River. 

The award for his incredibly brave actions was accepted on his behalf by his widow, Mrs Gu Meiying, who, via a translation by Mr Li Guangling, Maritime Counsellor, at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the UK, made an extremely moving speech, saying:

“Honourable Secretary General Mr. Koji Sekimizu, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. First of all, please allow me, on behalf of my whole family, to express our sincere thanks to IMO for bestowing one of the three 2013 IMO Awards for Exceptional Bravery at Sea on my late husband, Yang Jinguo. The award itself is the best recognition and affirmation of his sacrifice of his life to save others. It is also the best comfort [for my] heart to him in heaven. At the time the accident happened, he was 55 years old and just 9 months away from retirement. But when confronted with danger, he never shuddered from his duties and responsibilities. He lost his own life while saving others’. This loss is a heartfelt pain to me and our family. We miss him very much.

“I do understand why my husband took that action. If the past could become the present, I think he would do the same thing because he has been living for his duties and responsibilities as a seafarer. This spirit and soul power are our family treasures. Our granddaughter is 3 years old now. In the future, I will tell her the story. Her grandfather died for a noble act of saving other people’s life.”

Mrs Gu was followed by the two Americans, unlike Mr Jinguo, professionals in the life saving business which shows clearly that their actions on the night in question stood out even in a profession where life and death often hang in the balance. Aviation Survival Technicians Haba and Todd were despatched on board two Coast Guard Rescue Helicopters, CG-6012 and CG-6031, from United States Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, responding to a distress alert from HMS Bounty, during the pre-dawn hours of 29 October 2012. Bounty, originally built for the 1962 film of the same name and seen more recently in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, was sailing south from Connecticut to winter in Florida when Hurricane Sandy changed course from Cuba and caught the sailing ship together with her 16 strong crew.

After flying through the outer bands of Hurricane Sandy, in strong winds and torrential rain, CG-6012 encountered the ship, partially submerged with a large debris field, surrounded by life rafts. AST Haba was lowered into the stormy waters and spent an hour battling strong currents and 10 metre waves, in the wind and rain, taking survivors from the life rafts to the waiting rescue basket, overcoming exhaustion and fatigue. At one point, he was engulfed by a huge wave that knocked his mask off, severely restricting his vision and further hampering his tremendous efforts. AST Haba demonstrated the utmost determination and perseverance, performing two more rescues without the use of a mask and exhibited exceptional strength and endurance throughout the entire rescue.

Rescue Helicopter CG-6031 arrived 30 minutes after CG-6012, and AST Todd was immediately deployed into the turbulent sea to begin the task of reaching another life raft. He began retrieving each of the survivors from the raft and delivering them to the rescue basket. Whilst he was assisting the second survivor into the rescue basket, a large wave toppled the life raft containing the four remaining survivors. Todd immediately secured a handhold on the sea anchor to stabilise his position. His strength and ingenuity expedited the rescue of the six survivors and his action saved valuable time which enabled him to reposition himself to a second life raft, containing three additional survivors, whom he also successfully rescued.

Together the two men, ably assisted by their pilots and crews, rescued 14 of the crew, sadly although novice sailor Claudene Christian, 42 was found, attempts to revive her failed, whilst the body of Captain Robin Walbridge, 63, was never recovered. At Monday's ceremony Randy J Haba and Daniel J Todd turned out to be the most unassuming of men and Haba was clearly nervous as he took on the unaccustomed role of spokesperson to the large assembled audience, saying:

“If you asked anyone that knows me, one of the first things they would say is....he doesn’t talk very much. So when I was asked to come up here and say a few words, well if given the option, I think I would rather do the SAR case that got me here a hundred times over again, so please bear with me.

“First off, I would like to recognise my fellow award recipients my co-worker Dan Todd and Mr Jinguo Yang from China. As you can see, he is not here tonight because he made the ultimate sacrifice of giving his own life trying to save another. As a US Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer we live by the motto: ‘So Others May Live’, Mr Yang’s actions exemplified that to highest degree, he is what I would call a true Hero.

“It is a great honour for Dan and I to be here accepting this award tonight. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would be here for just simply doing my job. It was a tremendous privilege just to have been able to play one small part in the enormous task that was under taken by so many ‘Coasties’ during the rescue of the HMS Bounty . Right now there are nine other guys back home at Air Station Elizabeth City in my rescue swimmer shop that would have gladly traded spots with me. Well maybe not right now while giving this speech – but anyone of them would have been able to do the same thing I did, if not better, I just happened to be the one on duty that night.

“However, several factors made this mission more challenging than others. For one thing, it was during a hurricane. That meant it was at night, with 60 plus knot winds, heavy rain, low ceilings with no visibility at times, and 30 foot waves that broke over the top of Bounty and its life rafts. It was that perfect, mythical, dark and stormy [night] that I heard tales of throughout my career and was warned to always be ready for. Sitting in that doorway of the helicopter waiting to deploy to the water was one of the ultimate ‘SO THERE I WAS’, words often used by rescue swimmers when recalling amazing events that they were part of. But in the end, none of that mattered. The fact that 14 sailors were able to return home to their loved ones, that’s what mattered.

“The HMS Bounty rescue was just one of countless rescues that happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Fellow aircrews rescued people who were trapped in their homes after the storm, while response boat crews travelled from as far as our Great Lakes to safeguard America’s waterways. Recently, and throughout my career, jokingly I have been asked, why would anyone ever want to jump out of a perfectly good helicopter? Well the simplest answer is this, ‘Because We Can!’ With our training, our skills and our capabilities, there was NO CHOICE but to act. This whole experience has been truly humbling.”

Fittingly AST Haba’s speech was met with a prolonged standing ovation from the thousand plus delegates of the IMO. The awards also saw six ‘Highly Commended’ nominees handed certificates to commemorate their bravery. These included:

• Captain Xinming Ning, Master of the container vessel Sheng Da 88, nominated by China, for rescuing the 2nd officer’s seven-month old baby, from the Sheng Da 88 which was sinking rapidly, having collided with the container vessel Jiang Xia Xing;

• the crew of the speedboat Zhongguo Yuzheng 44246, Dianbai Branch of Guangdong Fishery Administration General Brigade, nominated by China, for rescuing 11 crew members of the fishing boat Yuedianyu 53018, which had suffered engine failure, during a typhoon;

• Mr. Fabian Higgins, paramedic and rescue diver, Western Cape Emergency Medical Services and Constable Heino Uhde, diver, South African Police Services Diving Unit, nominated by South Africa, for rescuing three passengers trapped under the capsized charter sightseeing catamaran Miroshga, during darkness and in freezing cold water;

• Captain Vladimir Safonov and the crew of the M/T DS Crown, nominated by the United Kingdom, for rescuing 24 crew members of the container vessel MSC Flaminia which had exploded and was ablaze;

• Lieutenant David A. Middleton, Lieutenant David M. Stern and AMT3 Andrew J. Witruke, Air crew of the helicopter CG 6502, Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, US Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco, nominated by the United States of America, for rescuing a crew member suffering severe chest pains, from the M/V Matsuura, in very demanding weather conditions;


• Mr. Damien Bolton, helmsman, Mr. Matthew Main, crew member, and Ms Nicola-Jane Bradbury, crew member, Port Isaac Lifeboat Station, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, United Kingdom, nominated by the International Maritime Rescue Federation, for rescuing, at great personal risk, a father and son who had been swept off cliffs into an arc of semi-submerged rocks in very rough waters. The father, sadly, did not survive the ordeal.

Letters of commendation have also been sent to the following:

• Mr. Hong Yanchen, rescue swimmer of the rescue helicopter B-7327, Donghai No.1 Rescue Flying Service, nominated by China;

• the crew of the rescue vessel Dong Hai Jiu 111, Donghai Rescue Bureau, nominated by China;

• the crew of the rescue vessel Bei Hai Jiu 115, Beihai Rescue Bureau, nominated by China;

• the crew of the rescue helicopter B-7309, Beihai No.1, Rescue Flying Service, nominated by China;

• the crew of the rescue tugboat Nan Hai Jiu 111, Nanhai Rescue Bureau, nominated by China;

• Mr. Charles Fereol-Talbot, senior technician for sustainable development, Mr. Sony Bamberg and Mr. Charly Luissint, marine registry representatives, Directorate of the Sea, Guadeloupe, nominated by France;

• Commander (ITCG) Pilot Andrea Vitali, Commandant of the 2nd Air Base of the Italian Coast Guard of Catania, and Commandant of the AW 139 SAR helicopter Nemo 11-02, nominated by Italy;

• Lieutenant (ITCG) Pilot Luca De Ponti, Commandant of the AB 412 SAR helicopter Koala 9-05, nominated by Italy;

• 1st Petty Officer Pedro Gutiérrez Santibañez, diver of the vessel ARE 01 Otomi, Mexican Navy, nominated by Mexico;

• Captain Jeong-Young Hyun, Master of the fishing boat 501 Dae-Yang, Captain Gyung-Woo Kang, Master of the fishing boat 2002 Myoung-Sung, and Captain Hyun-Sik Shin, Master of the fishing boat 808 Woo-Jung, nominated by the Republic of Korea;

• Captain Wing-Bu Lee and the crew of the M/V Jin Fu, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), China, nominated by the Republic of Korea; and

• the Master and crew of the patrol ship 317, Republic of Korea Coast Guard, nominated by the Republic of Korea.

Photo: AST’s Randy J Haba (L) and Daniel J Todd (R)