Above Photo courtesy of SNSM

The judges for the 2020 International Maritime Organization (IMO) Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea have presented the crew of the all-weather lifeboat SNS 061 Jack Morisseau with individual Certificates of Commendation, for their actions in the attempted rescue of the only crew member on the fishing vessel Carrera in 2019.

Three of these awards were made posthumously.

The lifeboat crew were volunteer rescuers at the National Maritime Rescue Association (SNSM) Station at Les Sables dʹOlonne, in France.

In the early morning of 7 June 2019, the skipper of the fishing boat Carerra went fishing alone, despite warnings of extreme weather conditions caused by storm "Miguel". 

Contacted by the lifeboat skipper on his departure, the lifeboat advised him he would not be able to safely return to his home port and should seek shelter from the storm, to the south of Les Sables d’Olonne.

Several hours later, a signal from Carerra’s first emergency beacon was received by satellite and conveyed to MRCC Gris-Nez.  

At around 11h20, MRCC Etel asked the SNS 061 Jack Morisseau (which had already been launched) to try to rendezvous with the Carerra and broadcast a Mayday message to all vessels in the area. 

Unfortunately, at about the same time, the lifeboat was struck by a huge wave that broke two front windows and minutes later, despite the best efforts of the acting skipper in the extreme weather conditions, the lifeboat capsized. 

A second Mayday relay was broadcast for both vessels, but vessels in the area were unable to approach the stricken lifeboat because of the extreme sea state. 

When the lifeboat capsized, four crew members were thrown overboard in breaking waves 4-5 meters high. Three men made it safely ashore, but sadly the fourth did not survive. 

Three other crew members remained trapped in the overturned lifeboat. 

Tragically, two drowned, but one managed to communicate with the MRCC using his mobile phone and then made his way through air pockets on the vessel to the forward quarters, where he was rescued about half an hour later.    

The IMO judges honoured the crew members of the all-weather lifeboat by awarding them individual Certificates of Commendation for their bravery, exceptional courage and self-sacrifice in the course of the attempted rescue.

Nothing can bring back the crew members who were lost, but it is right that the risks run by SAR personnel in the course of their duties should be acknowledged by the IMO on this way. 

Click here to read more about the lessons learnt from the tragedy.