The winners of the IMRF Awards 2018 have been announced at a formal dinner and award ceremony attended by shortlisted finalists from around the world.

Theresa Crossley, CEO IMRF says:

 "The winners of this years’ IMRF Awards include some outstanding individuals and exceptional organisations and companies who really set the ‘gold standard’ for maritime search and rescue around the world." We would like to thank all those who submitted nominations. We congratulate all those who were shortlisted and the runners up in each category, but most of all we celebrate this years’ winners. They really are remarkable and act as an inspiration to all those working and volunteering all around the world to prevent loss of life in the world’s waters. We would also like to thank all of the IMRF Award sponsors who make this global recognition and celebration of maritime SAR excellence possible, and, of course, Redningsselskapet, the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue (RS), who so generously hosted this year’s Awards ceremony."

The Winners' Stories

The winner of the IMRF Award 2018 for Outstanding Individual Contribution to a Maritime SAR Operation is Captain Siddarth Sharma, a ship's master from Mumbai, India.

Captain Siddarth Sharma was nominated for his actions in saving two French fishermen, who had been drifting for three days on a sinking fishing boat.

He was the master of ITB ASTAL-LORIDA, employed by Trinitas Ship Management and based in India, and he says that he simply did what every seafarer should do – to save anyone in distress at sea.

The rescue took place on 11 January 2018 about midday. Captain Siddarth Sharma was on the bridge and spotted the boat about 2.5 kilometres away. He immediately decided to take action - calling on all of the crew to help.
The fishermen had been drifting for three days in very rough weather, strong winds and heavy rain. Their food and water had been washed away, the boat’s engine had failed and they had lost the anchor in the severe weather conditions.

It took three arduous attempts over three hours in lashing winds and strong swells to bring the weak and starving fishermen onboard Captain Siddarth’s ship. They used the pilot ladder on the port side along with lifejackets, lifebuoys and fired the line throwing apparatus three times to try and reach them until they were eventually successful.

The rescued fishermen were handed over to the French navy at Mayotte, which was a diversion from the ship’s planned passage and had to be agreed with the ship’s owners and company first.

Captain Siddarth Sharma says that: “It is every seafarer’s and Master’s solemn duty to save souls in distress at sea. I just did what any seafarer should do. Yes, it was an instant decision, but not without assessing the risks involved. I just did my duty.

The winner of the IMRF Award 2018 for Outstanding Team Contribution to a Maritime SAR Operation is the crew of KNRM Station Terschelling Paal 8, from Friesland, Netherlands.

The KNRM Terschelling Paal 8 team was shortlisted based on its actions in two particularly challenging SAR operations. The first was on 29 October 2017 when they helped the guard vessel Drifa. The ship’s engine had failed and the windows on the bridge had been lost. There were four people onboard the vessel as it drifted in appalling weather, with force eight north westerly winds and waves six to ten meters high. The crew of the KNRM lifeboat guided a coastguard vessel to the stricken Drifa, staying with the ship and seafarers until it was safe.

The second rescue took place on 1 March, when a fishing vessel the ZK 80 Linquendaal ran aground between the islands of Schiermonnikoog and Ameland in the Waddenzee. The wind was Force 8 from the east and the temperature was -8 degrees centigrade, with a wind chill factor of -22 degrees. Very few lifeboats (they are mainly waterjet driven vessels) were on duty in the area because of the exceptionally heavy ice conditions. The Frans Hoogewind managed to reach the grounded fishing boat and, in the course of the rescue, the lifeboat’s own air intake channels became blocked with ice, and one of the VHF antennae broke because of heavy ice on the mast.

Nevertheless, the crew of the Frans Hoogewind were able to rescue three crew members from the grounded fishing vessel, one of whom already had frostbite. On both occasions, the lifeboat crew demonstrated excellent seamanship, enormous courage and an exceptional knowledge of the sea.

The winner of the IMRF Award 2018 for Innovation and Technology in Maritime Search and Rescue was the Pink Rescue Buoy, developed by the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) in South Africa.

NSRI’s Pink Rescue Buoys, developed by NSRI, SAR Professionals, Western Cape, South Africa were nominated in the Innovation and Technology category.

The majority of fatal and non-fatal drownings on South African beaches are as a result of rip currents, and they are most likely to happen when the lifeguard is not on duty. As a result, the first rescue service on the scene is likely to be the sea rescue and too often they find that there's more one person in trouble in the water, because an untrained bystander has attempted a rescue.

The Pink Rescue Buoy is designed to be used by bystanders to provide an emergency flotation device to someone in danger of drowning, before the emergency services or lifeguard arrives.

It is high visibility bright pink, so easy to spot in the water and it comes with a harness attached, should the rescuer decide to enter the water, providing both the rescuer and victim with a greater chance of survival.

It hangs from a bracket on a specially designed sign which displays the local NSRI emergency number or the closest emergency services together with a location number, so the rescue services know exactly where to respond to. Graphics on the sign also show the bystander how to throw the buoy to the victim in the water.

In the nine months since the start of the project, NSRI has installed 249 Pink rescue Buoys around the coast of South Africa, with the aim of positioning one in every high-risk water area.

The first 150 were placed around the East Coast of South Africa targeting the rip currents on the famous ‘Garden Route’ where approximately 80 per cent of the drownings are as a result of rip currents, and at the time of the award submission, the Pink Rescue Buoys had already saved 11 lives, 4 of which were children.

Exceptionally, there were two winners of the IMRF Vladimir Maksimov Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Maritime SAR Sector, with both finalists being presented with awards. The judges agreed that both Johannes Kooijman, who founded CITRO (Curacao Sea Rescue Organisation) and Captain Nikifor Guerchev, Chairman and founder of BULSAR, the Bulgarian National Volunteer Maritime Safety Society had both made outstanding contributions to maritime safety. Captain Toma Tomov was present to take the Award on behalf of Captain Guerchev.

Captain Nikifor Guerchev, Chairman of BULSAR, the Bulgarian maritime volunteers’ organisation was nominated in the Lifetime Achievement category, for his lifelong contribution to national safety at sea.

He joined the maritime section of the governmental voluntary organisation for defence aged just 14. Followed by the Navy and a post graduate qualification in marine radar and radio communications systems, he became the commanding officer of a Bulgarian navy coastal radio-technical post. He was released from the Navy for political reasons, but following political changes, in 1996 by order of the Ministry of Defence was promoted to Lieutenant Captain of the reserve, for his contribution to the modernisation of the navy communication system and social support of the navy.

In intervening years, he was the navigating officer of a SAR and Salvage vessel; becoming master on merchant vessels, the technical fleet and ocean fishing vessels. Captain Guerchev was also the Head of Bulgarian State SAR & Salvage department; (1975 -1978), Deputy Director General of the Maritime State Shipping Corporation, with responsibility for safety at sea (1978-1988) and for eight years the Bulgarian representative on the Inmarsat Council. He was the Bulgarian representative for the satellite ‘Cospas-Sarsat’ system and head of Bulgarian part of ‘Bulgaria-Romania High Commission ensuring the safety of navigation in the common area of Danube.

In 1994, he founded BULSAR, the Bulgarian national volunteer maritime safety society and is currently its Chairman.

With extensive experience and knowledge of complex marine wreck removal work, submerged technical and divers’ emergency operations, he has been personally involved in more than 25 major marine disasters along the Bulgarian sea coast and the Danube, including the removal of sunken vessels in Ilichevsk- USSR, Latakia-Syria and others. Many of the rescues have been extremely complicated and difficult and its estimated that he has directly and indirectly contributed to the saving over 250 human lives in different accidents and calamities at sea.

He has initiated and organised international drills, including state marine drill ‘SOS-1978’ which involved Bulgaria, Romania and the USSR; International Volunteer drills ‘Mayday’ (2008), with the participation of (Bulsar, DAK/SAR (Turkey), SNS (Italy); Voluntary Mass rescue Drill ‘Mayday’ 2010 (Bulsar, SNS-Italy).

He has contributed towards the purchase and installation of the first two space communication terminals in the Inmarsat system for the Bulgarian Navy, and he initiated and organised NAVTEX in the Black sea countries. Capt. Guerchev has helped shape modern legislation for SAR, salvage, and wreck removal, he’s taken part in research with Inmarsat, and helped establish the Inmarsat terminal for SAR in the MRCC Varna. He has contributed to numerous publications and papers on maritime safety and safety culture, SAR, salvage and wreck removal.

He’s also led many maritime SAR initiatives, working with the Bulgarian naval academy on the computerisation of maritime SAR processes and contributed towards the SAR-79 international convention. He worked to introduce the free 3-digit mobile number (161) which is used to alert the rescue services to people in distress at sea along the Bulgarian coast and created software to connect a call directly to a Bulsar member in the areas of distress.

Last but not least, Capt. Guerchev has authored many reports, organised international round tables on the problems of SAR, Salvage, and protection of the sea from oil pollution, developed patents for salvage equipment eg. ‘Electromagnetic patch’ and acted as consultant for the National Investigation Service (NIS) for maritime incidents and accidents.

Johannes Kooijman, (shown here with his wife, Julia) was nominated in the Lifetime Achievement category, Mr Kooijman is a lifelong SAR volunteer and founded CITRO (the Curacao Sea Rescue Organization) in the Caribbean more than 40 years ago. CITRO was only the 2nd voluntary sea rescue organisation to be founded in the Caribbean, and it has not been an easy journey.

For the first 14 years CITRO relied on yacht owners in the area to help with search and rescue missions. Mr. Kooijman established the organisation using yacht and small plane owners as volunteers, but it took too long to respond to any emergency call-out and not all the yachts were seaworthy enough to give help at any time. In addition, not all the yacht owners had the necessary know-how to handle a successful operation.

It wasn't until 2001 that CITRO was able to purchase its first rescue boat. In the early years, Mr Kooijman acted as president of CITRO, while working hard to share his knowledge with the yacht owners. He established close working relationships with the KNRM (Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Organisation), today KNRM is still part of the CITRO advisory board.

After 25 years as president of CITRO, Mr Kooijman stepped down, leaving in place a very professional and growing organisation with a solid team of dedicated volunteers who complete training locally and in Scotland, in partnership with the KNRM. Today there are more than 40 volunteers, a support team for fundraising, a marketing and PR team, a technical team and many sea going volunteers. CITRO now has two very professional sea rescue vessels, two seadoo's, a boathouse, and a 24/7 response service, and a signed MOU agreement with the coastguard.

Mr. Kooijman was also founder and editor of the Antillean Navigator, a monthly newspaper covering maritime and air news. He was co-founder of the Royal Association of Shipping chapter in the Antilles. He was instrumental in providing steadfast and invaluable support to the Caribbean Initiative, known as “CSAR”. This was an initiative of the United States Southern Command, the Coast Guard, and the Auxiliary, all working together to enhance the safety of life in the waters of the Caribbean by strengthening and establishing volunteer search and rescue units across the region. His efforts ensured the full participation and active support in the CSAR of all of the volunteer search and rescue units in the six major islands in the Netherlands Antilles: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, Sint Martin, and Saint Eustatius.

Finally, the winner of the IMRF 2018 People’s Choice Award was the Canadian Coast Guard Rescue Specialists who are based in Ottawa, Canada.

Every year they receive hundreds of requests for medical assistance at sea in the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. The service offers training and skills to shipboard navigation, engineering and logistics crew helping them to provide advanced pre-hospital care to the sick and injured at sea.

Recent rescues include a medical evacuation from a vessel where an explosion had torn a hole in the ship, causing it to sink in less than 20 minutes. The crew managed to abandon ship to the lifeboat but eight of the 22 had no immersion suits on, jumping into North Atlantic waters in little more than sweat pants and t-shirts. The Canadian Coast Guard Volunteer Rescue treated the Spanish crew for their multiple injuries including smoke inhalation and hypothermia, transferring some to a helicopter and taking the rest to hospital onshore.

The crew conducted search and rescue operations to locate three missing powerboat fishermen. After conducting a comprehensive search the Canadian Coast Guard Volunteer Rescue Specialists, found the men, treated them for hypothermia before bringing them ashore.

The team responded to a grounding on Vancouver Island when a pleasure boat operator misjudged his distance from shore and hit rocks at high speed. He was thrown from the boat sustaining severe head and spinal injuries and massive lacerations to his body. The rescue specialists attended to his wounds and completed a full c-spine immobilisation, enabling his safe transport to hospital.

The team also responded to a capsized trimaran which was taking part in an ocean sailing race from Quebec to France. The boat capsized in the North Atlantic and 10 hours later the trimaran crew were picked up by a passing tanker, but their injuries required advanced intervention. The Canadian Coast Guard Volunteer Rescue Specialists responded, four of the trimaran crew could be taken ashore by the coastguard vessel but one had suffered bad head and neck injuries and required more extensive care. The Rescue Specialists remained aboard the tanker with the casualty for 18hrs providing care until he could be safely airlifted to hospital.

RS also presented Local Hero Awards to two exceptional SAR teams from Norway. Coxswain Espen Johan Hole alongside crew members Kristian Lundemo and Magnus Hafslund were given a Local Hero Award for their part in a high-profile rescue saving three people. A second Award was presented to Frode Rostad and Stein Erik Aannerud, recognising their tireless volunteering, saving lives at sea over the last 20 years.

The IMRF Awards were created three years ago to recognise and reward the selfless efforts of search and rescue operators around the world, who make many sacrifices to save lives at sea. Nominations for 2019 will open very soon.

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