Merchant Ship Diverts to Rescue Rower in Remote Reaches of the Pacific

Baker Spirit Rescue
The missing rower in his life raft, as seen from the Baker Spirit (USCG)

Published Jun 21, 2023 5:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Friday, a merchant tanker carried out a remarkable rescue at a remote location in the South Pacific, far from the nearest shipping lanes. The crew of the Baker Spirit saved a long-distance rower who had been adrift for three weeks in a life raft in the middle of the ocean. 

On the morning of May 28, New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Center received word that the ocean rowing boat "Smiles" was in distress at a position in the South Pacific. The boat's operator and sole occupant, long-distance rower Aaron Carotta, had been posting about his trip on social media and his fans sent word to the rescue center to let them know that he needed help. 

RCC New Zealand contacted U.S. Coast Guard 11th District in Alameda, California to ask for assistance with a search. RCC Alameda asked two merchant vessels, the Voyager and the Mandalay, to divert and assist with a search. 

On May 31, JRCC Tahiti received alerts from the vessel in distress at a position about 1,240 nm to the northeast - a remote and untrafficked part of the vast Pacific, far from any islands. JRCC Tahiti asked three nearby merchant vessels to join in the search.

After receiving the coordinates for the mariner's last known position, the U.S. Coast Guard retasked a long-range search aircraft that happened to be in Tahiti to fly north and patrol the area. The HC-130 Hercules aircrew found the rower, who was in a life raft, and dropped three sets of life-saving gear for him, including rations, extra life rafts and comms equipment. 

On Friday, June 16, the merchant ship Baker Spirit diverted from its voyage and recovered the mariner safely. The tanker is under way for Oahu, where he will be delivered to shore. 

“This recent search and rescue operation stands as a testament to the unwavering commitment and remarkable capabilities of our international partners," said Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Birkner, a search and rescue duty officer at Coast Guard District 14. "The outcome of this search and rescue case highlights the significance of effective communication between our partners in the Pacific, the diligence of our aircrews, and willingness to assist from high seas mariners.”