The men and women of the Royal Australian Navy Patrol Boat, HMAS Broome, successfully prevented an environmental and maritime catastrophe off Papua New Guinea overnight by providing assistance to a commercial container ship, which had lost power and was drifting towards Ragelapra Reef.
At approximately 9.20am yesterday (24 October, 2011), the Australian Maritime Safety Authority requested Defence support in aiding the container vessel MV Vega Fynen, which had lost engine power and was drifting towards a charted reef, 100 nautical miles south-east of Port Moresby.
Commanding Officer of HMAS Broome Commander John Navin said his Ship’s Company were in final preparations to berth at the PNG town of Alotau when the new orders were received.
“The crew took the change of task in their stride as our Patrol Boat turned away from port and increased speed,” Commander Navin said.
“The rendering of assistance for the safety of life at sea is at the forefront of every mariner’s ethos.”
On receiving the call, HMAS Broome sailed 146 nautical miles at best speed to rendezvous with the 13,000-ton MV Vega Fynen and made contact with its captain to offer assistance to his crew should they be required to evacuate their ship.
While on station, HMAS Broome’s command team confirmed MV Vega Fynen’s drift rate and direction and worked to develop options to prevent the almost certain grounding on the reef.
Commander Navin said his team planned a stern-to-stern tow option in the hope they could at least arrest the drift of MV Vega Fynen until commercial salvage vessels and tugs arrived.
“The tow line was passed to the MV Vega Fynen only 700 metres before the ship entered uncharted waters as the sun was setting,” Commander Navin said.
Despite the MV Vega Fynen’s large size and tonnage, HMAS Broome was able to arrest the northerly drift of the container vessel, and slowly pull it south and away from immediate danger.
The Armidale Class Patrol Boat, dwarfed by the commercial carrier, kept the ship under tow for six hours until passing the tow line to a commercial tug, better suited for the role.
After successfully handing over the job, the Ship’s Company of HMAS Broome sailed back to Alotau to continue with their planned activities.
This morning they awoke to a congratulatory message from Port Moresby’s Rescue Coordination Centre.
The signal highlighted that the actions of HMAS Broome almost certainly averted a major environmental disaster.
“The measured risks taken in this dangerous evolution proved of great benefit and not only held the MV Vega Fynen but slowly brought her back into deeper waters,” the message stated.
Commander Navin said his Ship’s Company responded to the task at hand and achieved a complicated task on a scale that had not been attempted by an Armidale Class Patrol Boat previously.
“The crew are proud of their achievement and satisfied that their training and skills were put to good use to save lives and save the environment,” Commander Navin said.
“The Master of the MV Vega Fynen was very appreciative of the efforts of HMAS Broome and expressed his sincere thanks once we had recovered our towing equipment.”
HMAS Broome was on its way to visit Alotau, PNG, to participate in Exercise Paradise 2011, when it was tasked to assist in the search and rescue mission.
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