It was a quiet night. The sea was calm and there was very little light. Dark but not a black night as it is sometimes. It started at 0030 hrs when suddenly the VHF crackled into life, A merchant vessel was calling for a named vessel which I thought to be unusual. There was no reply.
About 20 minutes later the call went out into the night once again. No reply. This now had my full attention as any merchant vessel on a collision course would have resolved the issue by now so what was going on?
Another 20 minutes or so past and out went the call once again, To it was tagged a line which stated we have some specific questions to ask you. Intriguing. Still as far I could tell there was no reply.
A further 30 minutes or so and the VHF sounded again. This is merchant vessel Kujawy calling yacht ??? And it went on to ask how many persons were onboard? The captain confirmed the reply; two persons on board. Do you have steerage? The reply must have been yes. OK then I will create a lee on the south side and you can come alongside. Can you confirm that it is your intention to abandon your vessel? The captain again confirmed that he had heard the vessel was to be abandoned.
This is not the kind of communication you want to hear at any time but this was mid-Atlantic. Much goes through your head thinking about why this is taking place on a calm night, how did an assumed May Day go out when we didn’t hear anything, how do you arrive at such a decision, and if you still have enough control to come alongside why do you need to leave your ship? Will the transfer go successfully, is there any significant risk, is the boat sinking and so on. I was straining to pick up clues with every VHF transmission.
Hang on. This is in VHF range, maybe 25nm away, How concerned should I be that this yacht will be abandoned ahead of me and left floating in the dark. I was keen to call in on the VHF and ask what the plan was once the crew were recovered and where was this taking place? I felt my need was a little less pressing so best not to get involved at this stage.
Eventually the MV appeared on AIS to the north of us way off our intended track. My shift was over so at 0300 I had to tell Claire what was going on as I handed over. It was gloomy. We both listened for 20 minutes and could see a bright glow of lights on the horizon.
As I came on shift at 0300 I heard voices on the VHF. Paul said there was a yacht being abandoned and a tanker was picking the 2 people on board up. We could only hear the tanker’s comms. It was 12 miles away so we could see the tanker’s lights and also see them on AIS (our live version of marine traffic on the sea). Paul was OK about it all as he said they obviously needed rescuing and would be happy to step onto the tanker’s steps (they put out the steps that are normally for a pilot to board when coming into a port). I watched AIS as they took them onboard and then turned around and got back up to speed and resumed their course to somewhere in Brazil I believe. It was very well executed, professional and amazing to watch as well as being sad at the same time. I was somewhat emotional, and so started the day. I warned the ARC that there was a potential hazard perhaps still floating.
Very sad to report that a yacht has been abandoned by 2 people at 15 05.4857N 035 50.2999W (now assumed drifting)
Picked up by 190 metre cargo ship Kujawy MMSI 311828000 at 0600 UTC 10/12/13
They were 12 miles away from us and we could hear the tanker comms only.
Have watched Kujawy swing around to continue to their destination Villa Do Conde.