2007 Inaugural IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea
Second Officer Mustafa Topiwala of the 83,155 dwt Bahamas-registered oil/bulk ore carrier Searose G and Captain Zvonimir Ostric (who was on the vessel as onboard trainer at the time of the incident) were selected to receive the inaugural 2007 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea, in recognition of their part in the rescue of survivors from the sunken vessel Teklivka, in the eastern Mediterranean, in March 2006. They were nominated by the Bahamas and by the International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations (IFSMA).
Presenting the award, during a special ceremony in London held during the Organization's 25th Assembly, IMO Secretary-General Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos said the award was "a tribute to extraordinary courage; to adversity faced and adversity overcome; to determination in the face of grave danger; and to lives risked and lives saved."
The Searose G was on passage through the Mediterranean, bound for the Suez Canal, when it responded to a distress call from the Maltese-flagged Teklivka, which was sinking 50 miles south in gale force winds. By the time the Searose G reached the scene, the Teklivka had sunk. Nevertheless, a dramatic rescue operation was launched and the Searose G managed to rescue nine crew members with a further three survivors picked up by another vessel.
Tragically, three crew members of the Teklivka were lost.
The Assessment and Judging Panels considered that Second Officer Topiwala and Captain Ostric had placed their own lives in jeopardy, even though they were not trained professional rescuers, by undertaking acts that went well beyond the scope of their normal duties. They left the comparative safety of their ship, descending to a liferaft filled with oil and water. Second Officer Topiwala then jumped into the sea, in extremely hazardous weather conditions and reduced visibility, during the rescue, assisted by Captain Ostric.
A significant degree of skill was demonstrated by the master in manoeuvring his vessel in the severe conditions, further complicated by the need to avoid collision with containers floating in the sea. Throughout the operation there was excellent co-operation among the entire crew and this contributed to its success. The crew on the deck were at risk of being swept overboard or injured by seas breaking over the decks, while Second Officer Topiwala and Captain Ostric were also at great risk, as they could have been swept away by the particularly rough waters.
After eight oil-covered survivors had been picked up from a liferaft, the ninth was too weak to climb on the ladder and fell out of the liferaft into the sea. He was sighted floating face down, having previously removed his lifejacket. Second Officer Topiwala descended a ladder wearing a safety harness to assist the survivor in the water, assisted by Captain Ostric. The survivor was drifting unconscious by this time but was finally secured and brought on board the Searose G.
Mr. Topiwala and Captain Ostric were each presented with a silver medal produced with the support of the Royal Mint of Spain, and a certificate citing the act of exceptional bravery performed.
Mr. Mitropoulos also presented certificates to eight other nominees, recommended by the Assessment and Judging Panels, saying that "The elemental nature of their working environment still occasionally places professional seafarers in the sorts of situation for which there can be little or no adequate preparation. How they respond is a test of true courage - courage that deserves to be acknowledged and recognized".
The IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea was established by the Organization to provide international recognition for those who, at the risk of losing their own life, perform acts of exceptional bravery, displaying outstanding courage in attempting to save life at sea or in attempting to prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment - and, by so doing, help to raise the profile of shipping and enhance its image.
"The obligation to assist those in distress at sea is now enshrined in international law, in particular within a variety of instruments such as the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, the Salvage Convention, the International Convention on Search and Rescue and the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea. However, I doubt whether any of that was in the minds of these gallant men and women when they performed the acts of bravery for which we are paying tribute this evening. They were, I am sure, motivated solely by the purest of humanitarian motives and, in so doing, were continuing a practice that has its roots in traditions lost in the annals of maritime history," Mr. Mitropoulos said.
The first two nominees below were also shortlisted for the Award.
the Hong Kong Government Flying Service, nominated by China, for courageous actions that went well above those expected of a professional rescue service. The Assessment and Judging Panels considered that members of the Hong Kong Government Flying Service clearly risked their own lives to rescue 91 crew members of the vessel Wing on IV and the barge Hai Yang Shi You 298 (in August 2006) during the course of three consecutive aircraft/helicopter operations carried out in severe typhoon weather conditions, at some 170km and 132km southwest of Hong Kong, China, respectively;
Captain Xufeng Zu of the diving squad of Quinghuangdao Base of Beihai Rescue Bureau of China Rescue and Salvage (CRS). Captain Xufeng Zu was nominated by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) for a selfless act of bravery in August 2006. During the course of a professional operation involving two consecutive dives to locate and rescue the crew from the upturned hull of the capsized bulk carrier Fu Hua 1 (41 miles off Quinghuangdao, China), Captain Zu gave up his own breathing equipment, with no guarantee that he would survive, thereby placing his own life at risk so that two remaining survivors could be saved, before he himself was able to leave the stricken vessel;
Dr. Christine Jane Bradshaw (a civilian nominated by IMRF), for descending on a winch in rough weather, having been to sea only once before in benign conditions, to assist in treating and rescuing the last surviving crew member of the tanker FR8 Venture, in the Pentland Firth, Scotland, in November 2006;
the crew of the ocean-going rescue tug Nanhaijiu 111, of Nanhai Rescue Bureau (nominated by China), for a series of successful rescue missions since the rescue tug was put into service in March 2006, including the location and rescue of 14 small Vietnamese fishing boats during typhoon Chanchu, in May 2006;
Mr. Brett Churcher, skipper of the fishing boat Striker (nominated by IMRF), for prompt and effective actions which led to the saving of the lives of a man and his four-year old daughter off Cape Palliser, New Zealand, in April 2007;
the crews of the fast action lifeboats and vessels of the Spanish Maritime Safety Agency (nominated by Spain), for a series of successful operations to locate and recover safely, thousands of migrants at sea. Between March 2006 and February 2007, 30,493 migrants were assisted by the Spanish rescue services in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean;
Viktors Timoscenko, Master of the Latvian-registered tanker Ance (nominated by IFSMA), for persisting in the successful rescue of two persons adrift on a catamaran, after other efforts had been called off, during an operation that lasted almost 14 hours at night time, some 834km off Cape Cod, United States, in November 2006; and
Station Officer Kekoi Jaiteh, of the West Gambia Fire Department (nominated by IMRF), for actions which resulted in the saving of the captain and three crew members from a capsized cargo vessel in rough inshore waters, in January 2007.
Nominations for 21 acts of bravery, for the 2007 Award, were received from nine IMO Member States and three non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Organization. The nominations focused on such factors as location of the incident; prevailing weather conditions; skill displayed; leadership demonstrated; determination to conduct the rescue operation; exceptional courage demonstrated; and degree of risk (to human lives and/or the marine environment) involved.
The nominations were scrutinized initially by an Assessment Panel made up of representatives of non-governmental organizations in consultative status with IMO*, which met at IMO on 30 May 2007, under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General. The subsequent Panel of Judges was chaired by the Chairman of the IMO Council (Mr. J. Franson of Sweden) and its membership comprises the Chairmen of the five IMO Committees.
* The International Shipping Federation Limited; the International Transport Workers' Federation; the International Maritime Pilots' Association; the International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations; the International Salvage Union; the International Maritime Rescue Federation; and the International Christian Maritime Association.