Coastguard Nelson, New Zealand

Winner of the IMRF Award for Outstanding Team Contribution to Maritime SAR Operations

The volunteers from Coastguard Nelson have been nominated for a rescue mission which took place on 18 March 2020 in the Cook Strait Channel, New Zealand. During the mission, they risked their own lives and were pushed to their limits, but their persistence saved the lives of the Ocean Gem’s six-person crew.

Regular radio contact between the unit base and the rescue vessel throughout the operation meant that the risks were mitigated and managed in real time, which was a vital element of the mission’s success.

At 2100hrs on 18 March 2020 Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) received a Mayday call from 12-tonne Sailing Yacht, Ocean Gem. The vessel had lost its steering and autopilot whilst sailing in treacherous conditions from Hobart to Picton. It was now drifting in winds gusting between 20 and 25 knots and needed a tow into shore.

The RCCNZ made a pan-pan call to vessels in the area asking if anyone could perform a tow, but none were able to assist. RCCNZ then got in touch with Coastguard Nelson and the Police and informed them of the situation.

The Ocean Gem was now drifting through the dark night towards Durville Island in 3-4 metre seas, with the crew getting increasingly worried. The crew attempted to sail in a safer direction using a storm jib at a speed of half a knot, but the vessel began heading north on its own accord into greater danger.

RCCNZ instructed the crew to anticipate abandoning ship, but they were not prepared to desert a perfectly good boat. At 0200hrs, Coastguard Nelson agreed to come to their assistance, and the crew arrived at the unit base for a briefing and to prepare the rescue vessel.

At 04:00 the five-person Coastguard crew launched and headed for the Ocean Gem, which had now drifted so far out that the Coastguard unit had to obtain a special exemption from Maritime New Zealand to allow them to travel outside their area of operation to reach the yacht.

At 07:20, the Coastguard finally arrived at the Ocean Gem, finding the crew members safe and well. It took some time to attach a tow line between the 8.5m Coastguard rescue vessel and the 12-tonne yacht in a 4 metre swell. Once attached the Coastguard crew had to drive in a zig zag pattern, up through each wave and sideways to be able to pull the large vessel.

This worked for a short time, but then the tow line broke. The crew reconnected it and slowed the speed, but progress was painfully slow.

Two of the Coastguard Nelson crew became severely seasick, but just they were considering abandoning the tow, the weather improved, several hours later the crews were met by the Nelson Harbour Master and three new Coastguard volunteers boarded the vessel to changeover the crew and refuel the vessel.

Finally, after an 11-hour tow, the Coastguard rescue vessel and Ocean Gem arrived at the dock to be met by quarantine officers, customs, Ministry of Health representatives and the rest of the very relieved Coastguard crew. The crew onboard Ocean Gem had to go into a 14-day self-isolation period, but the crew of the Coastguard Nelson rescue vessel could finally step down.


Coastguard Nelson - New Zealand The IMRF Awards 2021 - The Final Results