Keith Davies’ recent holiday cruising from Sydney to New Guinea was almost akin to an adventure on the high seas when their ship the Sun Princess took a five hour detour to rescue five people drifting in a four metre fishing boat.
This is Keith’s story
My wife and I were recently cruising when our ship was involved in a dramatic rescue at sea.
On Monday, September 26 we spent the day at Luganville before setting sail that afternoon for Champagne Bay.
We had just sat down to dinner when the captain, Diego Perra, made an announcement to say that he had been contacted by the search and rescue team from New Caledonia that there was a small four metre fibreglass banana style boat had been adrift for two days with five passengers.
The oldest person on board was an 89-year-old woman – who happened to be the mother of Vanuatu’s Minister for Internal – another female of about 30 years and three men aged between 25-40 years.
They were from Wunpukp Santo and were carrying food and provisions for another tribe when bad weather, rain and heavy seas forced them off course past the headland and into the ocean where they ran out of petrol and were now drifting.
Since there were no commercial flights in the air nearby a private plane had set off earlier in the day and had had been lucky enough to sight the drifting boat and relayed the coordinates to search and rescue.
The captain explained that under maritime law, and since we were closest vessel, we were obliged to search for the boat and rescue those on board.
We would be travelling at full speed to the coordinates supplied which was about 115 miles away and would take us about five hours, expecting to be in the area about 1am.
I spent most of the time from 12.30am on our balcony and just before 1am a strobe light was launched.
A little later there was a pinprick of light that kept disappearing, in hindsight the small craft was rising and falling in the waves.
The captain ordered all deck lights to be extinguished and a search light lit to probe through the rain and deteriorating weather.
During this time I was photographing what I could of the rescue with a few reasonable images despite the weather and poor lighting.
The next day I showed the images to the customer relations officer, and an hour later I was asked if I would be available at 3.30pm to meet the captain as he was interested in seeing the images.
I was taken up to meet Captain Perra in his day room.
We discussed the images then he told me of the ordeal of the night before.
At first they suspected the pin prick of light to be just clutter in the sea but as our ship was slowly getting nearer it became more obvious that it was the small boat that we had been searching for.
Because the boat was mainly fibreglass it was difficult for radar to pick it up.
Another problem arose that the closer we got the wash from our ship was pushing the small boat away from us so the captain had to manoeuver our ship so that the small boat was in a lee and they could eventually use the oars to come to the side of the ships pontoon and be landed safely.
Once they were on board they were taken to the medical centre and checked out.
A flashing light was attached to the little boat and it was set adrift.
The captain explained that the initial strobe light was launched at the precise coordinates he had been given then if it had been necessary to search in a grid pattern he had a point to work from.
After the rescue we then proceeded to our original destination of Champagne Bay at maximum speed and were only one hour later that our original expected time of arrival.