In a real-life drama reminiscent of a Robinson Crusoe tale, the Australian Defence Force has helped to rescue three men who were shipwrecked on a tiny uninhabited Pacific island.
The warship HMAS Canberra was on its way home from a naval exercise when it was diverted to become part of a three-nation effort to save the men, who were reported missing after embarking on what was supposed to be a relatively short journey between an atoll and a local island in Micronesia on July 29.
Formally known as the Federated States of Micronesia, the small country of around 550 000 people is spread across the western Pacific Ocean and comprises more than 600 islands.
Three nations team up for rescue
According to reports issued by local media, the US Coast Guard and the ADF, close co-operation between the US military, the ADF and Micronesian search-and rescue-authorities saw the men being rescued alive and unharmed after spending four days stranded on the island.
After the alarm was raised by family of the missing men, a US military aircraft operating from Guam Island conducted an aerial reconnaissance and was nearing the end of its search when it diverted near the island due to a rain storm and spotted a large ‘SOS’ sign on the beach.
“We were toward the end of our search pattern [when] we turned to avoid some rain showers and that’s when we looked down and saw an island, so we decide to check it out and that’s when we saw SOS and a boat right next to it on the beach,” said Lt. Col. Jason Palmeira-Yen, the KC-135 pilot.
HMAS Canberra rushes to assist
“From there we called in HMAS Canberra because they had two helicopters nearby that could assist and land on the island.”
The Australian warship headed towards the island and dispatched one of its helicopters, which landed on the beach near to the stranded men, checked on their condition, and offloaded supplies.
Due to concerns around COVID-19 it was decided between the co-operating countries that, because of the good health of the stranded men and the good weather, they would remain on the island while a naval vessel from the Federated States of Micronesia went to pick them up.
At midnight on 3 August, FFS Independence arrived on the scene, launched a small boat crew and rescued the marooned mariners.
Coast Guard hails success of ‘partnerships’
“Partnerships,” said Captain Christopher Chase of the US Coast Guard on Guam. “This is what made this search-and-rescue case successful. Through coordination with multiple response organisations, we were able to save three members of our community and bring them back home to their families.”
According to a report by ABC News, the HMAS Canberra’s commanding officer, Captain Terry Morrison, said the response was outstanding.
“The ship’s company responded to the call and had the ship quickly prepared to support the search and rescue,” Morrison said.
“I am proud of the response and professionalism of all on board as we fulfil our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world.”