Pretoria: 20 February 2023
South Africa’s Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) is among recipients of this year’s Seamanship award by London based Ocean Cruising Club (OCC), in recognition of their role in the rescue of a Finnish solo sailor after he abandoned his sailing boat that sank about 500 miles south of the South African coast four months ago.
According to the OCC in an announcement, the Cape Town based MRCC, managed under the Centre for Sea Watch & Response of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), will receive the award jointly with Capt. Naveen Kumar Mehrotra and the crew of the DARYA GAYATRI, and Kirsten Neuschäfer who at the time was a competitor in the 2022 Golden Globe Race.
The OCC said the recipients for this year’s Seamanship Award were nominated for “the exemplary coordination of the rescue in the Southern Ocean some 500 miles off the coast of South Africa.
The entire saga ensued on 18 November 2022 after, according to the OCC, Mr Lehtinen reported that his Gaia 36 ASTERIA flooded rapidly from the stern with water up to deck level and then sank.
“Tapio Lehtinen’s boat took on water at the stern and sank within five (5) minutes. Tapio set off his EPIRB, donned his survival suit, grabbed his ditch bag, and deployed his liferaft just before his Gaia 36 ASTERIA sank.
“He was rescued from the liferaft by Kirsten Neuschäfer (who was about 100 miles away at the time of the sinking) and was transferred to a bulk carrier in 3m seas and 25kn winds,” said OCC Commodore, Simon Currin
At the time, the OCC noted that MRCC Cape Town confirmed communication with Captain Naveen Kumar Mehrotra onboard the bulk carrier M.V. Darya Gayatri, approximately 50 nm NW of Tapio’s position, diverting course at 12,5 knots and rendering assistance with an ETA (estimated time of arrival) between 0830 and 1000 UTC on November 19.
“Kirsten called the race coordinators and confirmed she picked up Tapio from the lifer aft and proceeded to transfer him to the bulk carrier. Tapio was in good health and on board the carrier M/V Darya Gayatri en route to China. Kristen resumed racing. It was a textbook rescue that resulted in swift resolution in the Southern Ocean,” said Commodore Currin
According to the OCC, the awards recipients will be presented with the honours at this year’s OCC annual dinner scheduled for Poole in the United Kingdom on 15 April 2023. For the MRCC however, the award will be presented to the team at an occasion in Cape Town later in the year.
Reacting to news of the award, SAMSA’s Centre for Sea Watch & Responde head, Capt. Pretty Molefe described the announcement of the conferment as both an honour and importantly; a crucial fitting indicator of the critical role that the sea watch and response centre and the MRCC independently play in the field of ensuring the safety of life and property at sea – effectively SAMSA’s legislated mandate.
She said: “South Africa, being signatory to the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue adopted by the International Maritime Organization, has an obligation to respond to distress calls within its designated Search and Rescue Region (SRR). This piece of legislation is domesticated by the SASAR Act 44 of 2002, within which falls the South African Search and Rescue Organization.
“MRCC Cape Town forms a crucial part of the South African Search and Rescue (SASAR) Organization, in that, it is tasked with coordinating all maritime SAR operations within our SAR region. A sizeable +/-27.7 million square km’s of it! At the centre for Sea Watch and Response, maintaining maritime domain awareness is of extreme importance for purposes of ensuring a timely response to incidents developing at sea, including Search and Rescue.
“Joining hands so others may live…” The successful execution of this rescue perfectly epitomizes this SASAR motto. Considering the very treacherous nature of the maritime environment, one would appreciate the fact that it takes teamwork and cooperation to execute and conclude a successful rescue operation, especially upon high seas. Not forgetting seamanship, as demonstrated by skilful sailors such as Ms Kristen Neuschäfer and the crew of the DARYA.
“The MRCC is manned by a team of men and women who are not only qualified but are equally as dedicated and attentive to each call that is received, whilst maintaining the highest level of professionalism, often under stressful conditions. I commend the MRCC team for their meticulous coordination of this rescue, in cooperation with the Master of the M.V. DARYA and Ms Neuschafer, which resulted in saving a life.
“We are extremely honoured to receive this recognition and such an important award, Seamanship Award 2022, issued by the Ocean Cruising Club. This industry is not one that is short of challenges but each one strengthens us and makes us better. Ensuring safety of life and property at sea remains imperative for us at the South African Maritime Safety Authority.
The view was also shared by MRCC chief, Mr Jared Blows; whose unit operates 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, constantly keeping a watchful eye and in constant contact, when needed, with the thousands of vessels, big and small; traversing the three oceans region surrounding South Africa.
Mr Blows further expressed his thanks and congratulations to his team at MRCC for yet another successful rescue. He went on to congratulate the other award recipients without whom this would not have been possible.
“The team at MRCC display professionalism and strive to maintain world class standards even under very challenging times.
“Over its almost 20 years being hosted by SAMSA, the MRCC has been involved in numerous incident with some notable being the 2011 rescue of 33 Taiwanese sailors about 2000nm west of Cape Town following their vessel having had an onboard explosion and fire resulting in them needing to abandon the vessel , the Cape to Rio (2014) yacht race rescue incident hours after the race started in very treacherous conditions and more recently the rescue of 62 sailors after their vessel, GEOSEARCHER (2020), sank off Gough Island,” remarked Mr Blows.