VHF radio + float-free distress beacon save Chatham Island cray fishers

22 March 2019

Three crew from a Chatham Islands crayfish boat were saved this morning thanks to a float-free EPIRB distress beacon and the VHF radio network.

Rescue Coordination Centre NZ received the distress beacon alert at 8.20 am this morning from Western Reef, 32 kilometres northwest of the Chatham Islands. The team spoke with the owner – the registered contact – who was on land. He confirmed that three people were on board the Mary Ellen II – a 10 metre commercial cray fishing boat.

“The beacon saved their lives,” said Senior Search and Rescue Officer Dave Wilson. “The only way we knew they were in difficulty was the alert from the EPIRB distress beacon – it’s vital to have one on board.”

RCCNZ worked with Maritime Radio to broadcast a Mayday message. “We used the local Chatham Islands VHF radio channel to request help for the stricken vessel,” he said.

Following the call, two fishing boats headed to the scene. The fishing boat Falcon II uplifted the three crew members at 9.45 am from the bow of the semi-sunken vessel. They were suffering from hypothermia, cuts and bruises. The crew have been taken to Chatham Island’s main wharf in Waitangi Bay.

“The owner recently installed the float-free EPIRB distress beacon on the vessel. The crew reported they were swamped via the stern by a wave. The skipper tried to dive down into the boat to access the beacon but was unable reach it. Fortunately, it deployed automatically and floated to the surface, transmitting their distress signal and alerting RCCNZ to their situation,” Wilson said.

Dave said this rescue also demonstrates that VHF radio is your rescue network at sea. “The rescue only happened because the other boats tuned into the VHF network and were able to assist.”

Float-free EPIRB distress beacons that can activate automatically became compulsory on commercial fishing vessels from 1 January 2019. This requirement applies to those vessels between 7.5 metres and 24 metres operating outside enclosed waters.

RCCNZ is responsible for a search and rescue region which covers 30 million square km stretching from Antarctica almost to the equator.

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