On Friday, a seafarer was evacuated from his ship off Sunderland in a coordinated operation between a volunteer lifeboat crew and a UK Coastguard rescue helicopter.
At 1300 hours on Friday, the UK Coastguard Operations Centre at Humber received a call from the captain of the geared bulker HC Jette-Marit, who reported that his chief engineer may have suffered a heart attack. The vessel was about four miles east of Sunderland, where it was due to anchor.
However, the situation was somewhat complicated: the chief, a Ukrainian national, refused to be evacuated from the ship by helicopter. He signed a disclaimer confirming his intentions, meaning that the Coastguard was unable to offer further assistance beyond urging him to change his mind.
Shortly thereafter, the captain radioed UK Coastguard to tell them that the engineer had been persuaded to evacuate by sea instead. The authorities asked the Tynemouth RNLI all-weather lifeboat to rendezvous with the bulker, and the lifeboat and its six volunteer crew members launched just six minutes after being paged.
On scene, sea conditions were poor, with strong northerly winds, a tidal surge and a swell of up to 16 feet. The captain of the Jette-Marit positioned his vessel to allow the lifeboat coxswain to come alongside the pilot ladder, where two lifeboat crewmembers climbed up with a casualty care kit. Getting them on board in the heavy swell was only possible thanks to the coxswain’s skill.
Once on board, the two RNLI crewmembers assessed the casualty and gave him first aid while the lifeboat stood a safe distance off. As they worked, the sea conditions worsened, and it became apparent that it was not going to be possible to safely evacuate the casualty by transferring him to the lifeboat. As a complicating factor, the Jette-Marit’s captain was reluctant to reposition the bulker to create a lee.
Luckily, the RNLI crew was finally able to talk the casualty into evacuating by helicopter, and the UK Coastguard dispatched an aircrew from Humberside airport. The heli arrived at 1618 hours and lowered a paramedic to the deck to prepare the chief engineer for hoisting. The aircrew winched the casualty, the RNLI crewmembers and the paramedic from the Jette-Marit's deck and flew them all to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
In an update on Saturday, the Tynemouth RNLI said that the chief engineer was due out of the hospital and would be heading home sometime this week.
"This was an unusual situation with the casualty initially refusing any help despite suffering what could have been a fatal condition," said Adrian Don of the Tynemouth RNLI Lifeboat Station. "His arrival at hospital was only made possible by the coordinated rescue response and in particular the skill, determination and bravery of our volunteer lifeboat crew and the helicopter crew, who worked in very challenging sea and weather conditions."
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a charitable, non-profit lifesaving force with 350 rescue boats located around the British Isles. Its volunteers and full-time lifeguards have been saving seafarers in UK waters for nearly 200 years.