The Royal Navy rescued all five crew of an ocean-going tug in the Caribbean when the vessel started to sink in choppy seas.
HMS Medway – the Royal Navy’s permanent presence in the region, conducting her first patrol of the year – plucked the tug crew off the large barge of sand they had been towing when their tug began to flood.
When the vessel’s engines failed, they took refuge on the barge – but not before sending out an SOS around 1pm January 7th (5pm in the UK) some 20 miles west of the island of Sint Maarten, near to the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla.
Patrol ship HMS Medway with her 50 crew was little more than a dozen miles away and picked up the Mayday straight away.
After consulting with the regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Martinique, the ship altered course and increased speed, reaching the stricken tug and barge in little more than 20 minutes.
Despite warm weather – 26 Celsius – the weather was squally with gusts of 30 knots, heavy showers and waves of up to 5ft, which put the rescue at the limits of Medway’s sea boat.
With lives at stake, the boat was launched with Medway’s boatswain Petty Officer (Seaman Specialist) Sarah Griffiths in charge and the first person to reach the stricken vessel.
“Whilst we were cautious as we made our approach to the barge and tug we were able to reassure the crew and transfer them clear of the barge safely. They were hugely grateful,” she said.
The five tug crew were not injured, but shaken and relieved to be rescued. They were carried back to HMS Medway and have now been handed over to a Search and Rescue boat from Anguilla which arrived as the rescue ended.
“The whole ship’s company leapt into action as soon as we made the decision to respond,” said Lieutenant Commander Carla Higgins, Medway’s Executive Officer in temporary command of the 2,000-tonne patrol ship.
“The swift thinking and actions of the team were fantastic and we were thankful to be conducting routine maritime security operations in the area to become the on-scene commander working with the local authorities and assist the crew to safety.”
Though low in the water, the tug had not sunk when Medway left the area to resume her maiden patrol of 2023.
The ship operates across the Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico and into the Atlantic all year round, supporting British Overseas Territories in the region, providing assistance in the wake of natural disasters (especially during the Atlantic hurricane season), and working with regional authorities to tackle the illegal narcotics trade.
Last autumn the ship intercepted a £24m cocaine shipment in a combined operation with the US Coast Guard and provided assistance in the wake of the two strongest storms to strike the Caribbean: Hurricanes Fiona and Ian.