Over the week of 30 April to 7 May, we had a hectic time here at King Edward Point, when three fishing vessels ran aground and 86 mariners needed to be rescued and housed. All this on an island with a current mainland population of just 13 people. Here’s how we coped….
The Falkland Islands registered long-liner, Lyn on the rocks at Discovery Point.
Wednesday 30 April was about two days into the Toothfish licensing period here at South Georgia, always a busy time. The Fishery Patrol Vessel Sigma was alongside the KEP jetty having brought Senior Fishery Officer Roy Summers from Stanley to assist Marine Officer Pat Lurcock with the licensing frenzy. We woke up to find that strong winds (Force 10 to 12) had caused the Spanish longline vessel Viking Bay to drag her anchor and run onto the beach just next to the jetty here. The wind scuppered any plans we had for small boat operations during the day, and hence we spent a frustrating day unable to perform any licensing inspections. With assistance from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) staff and Sigma’s crew, the Viking Bay managed to deploy mooring lines to hold her position during the strong winds and was able to get herself off the beach during the afternoon. She dropped off her MRAG (Marine Resources Assessment Group) observer Tahmores Moslempour, and proceeded to Stanley for a hull inspection. During the late afternoon and evening the wind dropped, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
The Ship, Viking Bay aground on Genny Beach
Later that evening, we BAS staff were halfway through our evening meal and about to attack a fruit crumble when a message came over the radio from the Korean longliner Moresko 1 to say that she had "hit bottom". The ship’s MRAG observer Marcus Shuttleworth (the only English speaker on board) reported that there was widespread panic amongst the crew, and he thought the ship was taking on water. Pat was already in the communications room and immediately attempted to obtain help from other long line vessels in the area. During the course of these radio transmissions it transpired that another ship, the Falkland Islands registered Lyn, had also run aground and two other vessels were assisting her. The two stranded ships were on the rocks on opposite sides of the entrance to Moraine Fjord, roughly 2 miles away from King Edward Point. We all abandoned the crumble and crowded round the radio in the dining room area listening with shock to what was going on outside, then organized ourselves into taking all the spare duvets and pillows we could find over to Larsen House, our overspill accommodation building – which boasts only 8 bunks.
Crewmembers of the stricken Moresko are rescued and their inflated life rafts towed to safety.
After listening to the radio some more, it became clear that although Moresko 1 was taking in water and the engine room was filling up, she was aground in only 0.5 metres of water so there was little immediate risk to those on board provided they kept calm. Unfortunately the crew were panicking and Marcus had to make valiant efforts to calm down sailors who didn’t share a common language with him. All the life rafts were inflated and lowered over the side and the crew was frantically preparing to abandon ship – the sense of panic increasing when the generators failed and the ship was plunged into darkness. Shifts were organized ashore to man the radio and talk to Marcus every 40 minutes throughout the night, Sigma also organized a listening watch, and the rest of us went off to bed with varied successes in managing to sleep. The Lyn, although suffering her own problems, kept a searchlight on the Moresko 1 to monitor her situation.
We were up well before dawn the following morning and had a briefing shortly after 06:00. At first light, our RIB (Alert) and Sigma’s Delta RIB went out to Moresko 1 along with our small fishing boat (Quest) to start ferrying the fishermen from Moresko 1 ashore. Roy and Malcolm (Sigma’s Chief Officer) went onto the vessel to ensure that the evacuation was conducted safely and to assess the situation of the vessel. The boat crews also collected the life rafts, some personal belongings and a quantity of food – the food having to be sprayed with insecticide spray to kill cockroaches before we allowed it ashore. We had set up a reception area in the boatshed with warm drinks on tap and as many chairs and benches as we could find, and laid on soup, noodles, bread rolls, biscuits and fruit for the rescued mariners. All 40 of them were well, if somewhat subdued, and wearing dry, warm clothes. The plan was for us to house half of them and for Sigma to take the rest, but plans can and do change so we held them all in the boatshed until we knew what was happening with Lyn.
During the day a number of longliners (Isla Camila, Viking Bay, Tierra del Fuego, Magallanes III and Polar Pesca I) had all attempted to tow the Lyn, and at one time three vessels at once had tried to pull her off the rocks. An hour prior to darkness, the Fishing Master of Lyn decided to request that all bar 6 senior officers were evacuated from his ship. The small boats went out again and brought 37 sailors plus the MRAG observer Eugenio Olivares back to us on shore. When we had heard the decision to evacuate most of the Lyn crew we had immediately gathered the Moresko 1 crew together and taken them up to Larsen House, as it was now obvious that the sensible thing to do was for all the Moresko 1 sailors to stay with us and for Sigma to take the Lyn crew. The three observers stayed with us on base. It was difficult to communicate with the Moresko 1 crew who were a mixture of Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesians and spoke no English, so we resorted to drawing pictures of toilets and "no smoking" signs and sticking them on doors. Back in the Falklands, permission was being sought to allow the Sigma to attempt to tow the Lyn, as with her 3600 BHP she has more power than any three of the Longliners mentioned above added together.
From the ground, the next few days seemed to merge together. With only 8 British Antarctic Survey (BAS) people on base, plus Rob Gater (MRAG Observer Co-ordinator), Pat and Sarah Lurcock, and Tim and Pauline Carr at the South Georgia Museum, we were very stretched as we had to juggle continuous daylight boating operations, communications (with and between ships, boats and base personnel, and with the "outside world" in Stanley and BAS Cambridge), looking out for our 43 extra guests, a few minor medical problems, and keeping the base running as normally as possible. Science was of course put on hold for the time being. A rota was drawn up to ensure that two of us stayed in Larsen House round the clock – this gave us a chance to get to know the sailors, not an easy task when none of them spoke English but we soon discovered that dominoes and Connect Four straddle all language barriers! Sigma gave their bar area, the largest open space on board, over to the Lyn crew, who originated from Spain, Chile, Peru and Indonesia. In the rare moments we had to sit down and rest, we slumped in front of episodes of "Friends" and "Cold Feet".
Members of the Moresko Crew inside a crowded Larsen House playing cards.
Through all this, licensing had to continue so Pat, Roy, Rob, Howie the BAS boatman, and the Sigma Delta crew (Frankie and Kev) were constantly moving from here to there and from there to here in the small boats. Over the next couple of days there were a number of attempts by other vessels to pull Lyn off the rocks, which meant lots of ferrying of Lyn crew members on and off the Lyn to prepare towing lines, pump fuel, dump bait, etc. The Sigma had to abandon one attempt on 2 May due to darkness and short tow lines, then things went a little better on 3 May with two good tow lines attaching Sigma and Lyn together (several mooring lines were donated by the Captain of Moresko 1). A diver from the Lyn had discovered that rocks were pinning the ship in on both sides of her stern, so a tow dead astern would be the only solution. Roy and Craig (2nd Officer on Sigma) were aboard Lyn to co-ordinate the towing attempt and translate instructions and information. With the high tide and all Sigma’s power, the Lyn moved astern a few metres but remained stubbornly aground. The longliner Jaqueline, another powerful ship, attempted a tow the following morning but she also couldn’t make the Lyn budge.
The six senior officers remained on the Lyn to operate the pumps and machinery with the hope that when the tug Typhoon arrived she would be able to remove the fuel, with the extra buoyancy allowing the ship to be towed free. But eventually the poor old ship gave up, the incoming water overwhelmed the pumps, and a Mayday call was received at lunchtime on Monday 5 May. The 6 officers were quickly and efficiently evacuated from their ship by BAS boats and reunited with their crewmembers on Sigma. In a way that was a relief for us here as it meant that we didn’t have anyone remaining on a damaged ship overnight. The senior officers of Lyn should be commended for all their efforts to re-float their ship, whilst always ensuring the safety of their crew. Later that afternoon the Moresko 1 crew departed the cove on the jigger 101 In Sung, after a great deal of discussion and advice from higher authorities about life raft capacity (101 In Sung did not have enough life raft space for her own crew, let alone the 40 extra from Moresko 1!). By placing the inflated life rafts from Moresko 1 aboard 101 In Sung, Pat ensured that there was sufficient life saving equipment on board for all. That night we had an "Emergency Bar Night" with the Sigma guys in the base bar. Roy earned a reputation as someone who enjoys drinking from those strange bottles of unusually coloured alcoholic liquid at the back of the bar that no-one else drinks.
The tug Typhoon arrived from Stanley on Tuesday 6 May and although she was unable to perform any salvage due to a lack of sufficient pumps, she took 19 members of the Lyn’s crew on board and eventually headed back to the Falklands on 8 May. Sigma sailed on 6 May taking the two MRAG observers Marcus and Eugenio and the 24 remaining crewmembers from Lyn and eventually left us - nearly a week later than planned, and after some extremely hard graft on everyone’s part. We were very fortunate to have Sigma alongside - it would have been far more difficult to cope with the two wrecked ships and sudden influx of 86 rescued sailors without the huge efforts and good humour of her officers and crew.
Fishermen from the Moresko inside King Edward Point Boat Shed just after being rescued.
So, now we’re back to normal – or nearly there, as we’re still trying to secure the large amounts of rope and other objects on the decks of both vessels, which would be a shipping hazard were the ships to break up. We’re left with two rather unsightly additions to the view from our windows, and a strong smell of diesel when the wind is in the wrong direction. There is approximately 800 tons of fuel on the ships, which is a potential environmental disaster were the ships to break up. An oily sheen has appeared on the water around the wrecks, and as Lyn managed to dump a lot of her bait overboard during the attempts to pull her off, there is a lot of seabird activity round her. Neither ship has functioning freezers any more, so any remaining bait and perishable food is beginning to rot and smell. Moresko 1 is infested with cockroaches and rats, neither of which we are keen to give homes to.
We’re now hoping that the fishing companies will arrange salvage before the bad weather we expect at this time of year hits us in earnest and the ships break up.
At the end of the day, there were no casualties and many heroes: Roy, Pat, Peter Taylor (the Captain of Sigma) and Ian Parsons (our Base Commander) who all managed their resources impeccably; Sarah Lurcock who kept up cheerful and efficient radio communications almost continuously for the duration; Howie, Frankie and Kev the boatmen who kept their boats ready to go and worked non-stop during daylight hours; the rest of us on the ground who laboured hard behind the scenes to look after the extra faces and keep the power on and enough food on the table for everyone; the officers and crew of Sigma for too many things to mention; and Tim and Pauline who had an overnight baking session to relieve us from the task of bread-making and also provided a welcome haven when things got too much at KEP. Everyone pulled much more than their weight and we finished the week very tired but upbeat and confident that we’d all done a good job.
BAS Medical Officer
King Edward Point, South Georgia
14 May 2003