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Engineer Honored for Using a Power Block to Rescue Shipwreck Survivors

Guiding Star
Guiding Star (file image courtesy Parkon)

Published Oct 9, 2023 11:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

The engineer of the pair trawler Guiding Light has been honored with a lifesaving trophy from the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society for his quick thinking during the sinking of the vessel's sister ship off the Shetland Islands last year. 

On the afternoon of October 6, 2022, the Peterhead-based fishing vessels Guiding Star and Guiding Light were located about 45 nm to the southeast of the Shetlands. Conditions were challenging, including rough seas and winds approaching gale force. At around noon, the vessels hauled in their catch and were retrieving their trawl gear when they collided. The bow of the Guiding Light rose in a swell and struck Guiding Star towards the stern, penetrating the hull and flooding an accommodations compartment. 

The Star began to sink quickly, putting the lives of the eight crewmembers aboard at risk. The Guiding Star was taking on water so fast that the lifejackets and immersion suits were inaccessible to the crew, as the compartment containing them had already flooded. 

Guiding Light's first engineer, Kriss Leel, moved quickly to respond, starting up the deck crane and making heaving lines ready. The crew of the Guiding Light got one heaving line across and used it to rig a pulley system, which they used to transfer over their own immersion suits to the stricken vessel. The crew of Guiding Star then launched their life raft and abandoned ship, moments before the trawler foundered. 

The Guiding Light maneuvered to rescue the eight men in the liferaft. Improvising, Leel used the crane and power block to hoist three crewmembers out of the raft, minimizing the swinging of the whip to bring them safely aboard. Moments later, a wave swept up and capsized the life raft, throwing the other five survivors into the water. Leel worked the power block to recover two more crew members directly from the water alongside Guiding Light. 

The remaining three survivors hung onto the overturned life raft and drifted away. Luckily, an HM Coastguard helicopter based out of the Shetland Islands arrived on the scene and picked up the final three crewmembers. 

“Kriss demonstrated exceptional seamanship in the face of a grave situation, in relentless conditions and under considerable pressure. While unconventional as a rescue, Kriss’s calmness and skill in operating the power block, supported by his fellow crew, resulted in the rescue of his five colleagues from a life-threatening situation," said Captain Justin Osmond RN, Chief Executive of the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society. "Kriss is an extremely deserving recipient of the Society’s Lady Swaythling Trophy for 2023."