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Brave Fijian saves sailor
14/07/2010, South Pacific

Exceptional Bravery Award to Fijian for rescuing leisure sailors

'James Fanifau - IMO's Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea for 2010' .

A seaman from Fiji has been awarded the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) 2010 award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea. The award goes to 30-year-old Fourth Engineer James Fanifau for his heroism in the rescue of two sailors in the Pacific Ocean last year.

This after the Council of the IMO endorsed the decision of a panel of Judges, who said that the seaman, who hails from from the Fijian island of Rotuma, displayed extraordinary bravery and humanitarian concern and had gone far beyond the call of duty.

Exhibiting little regard for his own personal safety, Mr Fanifau went over the side of his container ship, into very rough seas, to pull the two exhausted sailors from the water and carry them to safety during a rescue operation.

Mr Fanifau, currently a crew and an electrician by trade on board the merchant vessel MV Danny Rose run and operated by Neptune Shipping, was nominated by Australia for his part in the dramatic rescue of two survivors from the sunken yacht Sumatra II in May 2009.

The rescue occurred amid severe weather conditions in the Tasman Sea when Mr Fanifau was sailing on the MV Scarlet Lucy.

On May 22 last year, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) was contacted by the United States Coast Guard and informed that a 16-metre yacht, Sumatra II, a 52ft Trintella, with two people on board, skipper and owner Dr. Jerry Morgan from Santa Rosa, California, and New Zealander Stewart McCreadie, had activated their US registered 406 MHz distress beacon.

The yacht was approximately 350 nautical miles east of Brisbane, was taking on water and sinking, owing to keel damage which had previously been assessed as only superficial. RCC Australia made contact via an onboard satellite phone and established contact with the two men. They were advised to remain with the yacht as long as possible and be prepared to evacuate the yacht when required.

Sumatra II Dr Jerry Morgan and the rest of the crew who saved him - .. .
RCC Australia co-ordinated five fixed wing aircraft to assist in locating the yacht's position, and a broadcast to shipping was issued with the merchant vessel Scarlett Lucy responding and diverting to the distress position.

The weather conditions in the area were very poor with rough seas, up to eight metres and low visibility. The distance offshore meant that a rescue helicopter could not be utilised.

When Fanifau's ship, the MV Scarlett Lucy, arrived on the scene, they faced an enormous task of rescuing the two men.

While other crew members felt reluctant in their attempt to rescue the survivors, brave Mr Fanifau placed himself in great danger by going over the side into very rough seas to help the two exhausted elderly survivors of the Sumatra II.

Skipper Jerry Morgan had drifted in the water for some 45 minutes when Mr Fanifau utilised the life rings to attempt to bring him on board.

It took persistence and tremendous bravery for him to eventually rescue the man from the water.

The IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea was expected to be presented by the Secretary-General at IMO Headquarters on the occasion of World Maritime Day or another major IMO occasion, as appropriate, taking into account the availability of the recipient Mr Fanifau.

A total of 31 nominations from 16 IMO member states were received and considered by an assessment panel consisting of experts nominated by various international non-governmental organisations.

The Council of the International Maritime Organisation decided on the award going to Mr Fanifau, and of the other nominees, that four would receive Certificates of Commendation and five would get Letters of Commendation.

Mr Fanifau has been sailing since 2005 on various trade and merchant ships such as Captain Cook, Captain Wallis, Scarlett Lucy and is now on board Danny Rose, a ship that brings wheat to Fiji.


Here is the story of the rescue, as related by retired urologist Dr Jerry Morgan, as the crew of the violently rolling freighter tried again and again in darkness to pluck him from the Tasman Sea.

Sumatra II - the boat he lost after 10 years cruising - .. . Click Here to view large photo

'I was so exhausted. I couldn't swim at all,' Morgan, 71, said after his ordeal in cyclone-like conditions about 350 miles east of Brisbane, Australia . He thought about his two sons and his grandchildren as he considered removing his flotation vest and letting go.

Three days earlier, on May 18, Morgan and a crewman from New Zealand , Stewart McCreadie, 38, had set sail from New Caledonia . They were bound for Brisbane , 780 nautical miles to the southwest, when a storm of near-hurricane force howled to life.

The seas rose to 25, 30 feet. 'These are mountains,' Morgan said. One huge waved pounded down directly on his 53-foot, Dutch-made Trintella sailing yacht and it began to take on water.
Morgan, who practiced medicine in Santa Rosa for 35 years and retired in 2005 to sail the world, knew at once what had gone wrong with the $500,000 boat he'd owned for a decade and had sailed more than 30,000 miles.

Just before he and McCreadie left from Ile de Pins, the southernmost island of New Caledonia , his 30-ton Fiberglas boat had dragged its anchor and grounded on a reef. He'd inspected it and saw that the keel had sustained some damage, but he thought it was not so serious that he couldn't wait until arriving in Brisbane to have the boat pulled out and repaired.

That decision forever will be what Morgan refers to as The Mistake. When his boat, Sumatra II, began taking on water he realized it had been weakened by the grounding days earlier and was fractured by the blow from the giant wave.

The winds were howling at about 50 mph and the hammered sailboat was swamping when, at about 9:30 a.m. May 21, Morgan put out a distress signal through his EPIRB, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. He also used his satellite phone to call the Coast Guard in San Francisco.

The Coast Guard alerted Australia 's Rescue Coordination Centre, which scrambled several Australian Coast Guard planes. The Sumatra II had been taking on water for about two hours when the crew of a twin-engine plane dropped a gasoline-powered pump into the ocean.

But Morgan and McCreadie were helpless to move the crippled boat to the pump.
'The engine was out. The sails were completely ripped apart. It was trashed,' Morgan said.

The Australian Coast Guard plane dropped a second pump and the sailors were able to grab the tether line, but when they reeled it in the pump had fallen away.

The crews of several other planes, including a big C-130 transport, spoke with Morgan and told him it was not possible to dispatch a rescue helicopter because the sailboat was too far from shore.

The Australian authorities put out a call for ships in the area and the Fijian captain of the Singapore-flagged cargo ship Scarlett Lucy, bound for Sydney , promptly offered to make a rescue run.

But the 4,000-ton, 320-foot ship was 70 miles away and darkness fell before it reached the almost fully swamped Sumatra II. The seas and the wind still raged, so the ship kept a distance of about a quarter mile rather than risk crushing the sailboat.

As the crew of Scarlett Lucy shone a searchlight on them, Morgan and McCreadie boarded the Sumatra 's dinghy and motored through 30-foot seas to the heaving freighter. When the pair was alongside, the Scarlett Lucy crew draped a rope net over the side of the ship.
Morgan said McCreadie was able to grab and hold it as the lurching freighter yanked him out of the dinghy and he clambered up to safety. Morgan wasn't as lucky when he took hold of the net.

'I grabbed it and it ripped out of my hands, so I fell back in the dinghy.'
Then his little boat began to drift back toward the big ship's propeller. He jumped into the sea.

About 45 minutes later, he was exhausted and hopeless from having been tossed about, now near the ship, now some distance away.

'At one point I just thought I would drown.' He meant, intentionally drown. He thought to unfasten his personal flotation device and just sink.

As he despaired in the darkness and the roiling water, he thought of his two sons and two grandchildren in San Rafael and Park City , Utah.
'The love of your family and your need to be there as a father and as a grandfather, that was pretty strong and foremost in my mind,' he said. And he noticed that the Scarlett Lucy was inching closer to him.

Suddenly there was a life ring in the water beside him. 'Clip on! Clip on!' he heard someone scream.
Morgan found the metal clip on his life vest and fastened it to the ring. His saviors on the freighter's deck hauled up.

Mildly hypothermic but uninjured, he was helped into a warm shower, fed and clothed by the crew - the 17 'most beautiful, wonderful people I ever met in my life.'

Two days later, he and McCreadie were in Sydney .

Back home after the incident, Morgan said he expected the loss of the uninsured sailboat and much of his other worldly possessions meant he would have to return to work part time. He also said he would never go to sea again.

'After this, it kind of ruins it,' he said.

But the announcement of the award brings a small patch of sunshine into the tragic end to his cruising days.

(As reported by Sail World)

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