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August 2007

Kanawha rescues 16 foreign mariners
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By Gillian Brigham, SEALOGEUR Public Affairs

USNS Kanawha
Fleet replenishment oiler USNS Kanawha aided a French warship in rescuing 16 mariners from a North Korean-flagged merchant ship that was in danger of sinking after its diesel engine became disabled. File photo

Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Kanawha helped rescue 16 crew members from a disabled North Koreanflagged merchant ship in the Arabian Sea June 25.

The civil service mariner-crewed Kanawha and French warship Dupleix responded to a distress call from MV Jai Laxmai at 6:26 p.m. local time. The ship, which was in danger of sinking, had a disabled diesel engine and was anchored by a weak mooring line in unstable sea conditions, with 10- foot waves and 27-knot winds. Jai Laxmai also reported that there was no food or water aboard and that the ship was unable to deploy its lifeboats to evacuate the crew.

The U.S. 5th Fleet's multinational Combined Task Force 150, responsible for maritime security in the region, and CTF 53, responsible for 5th Fleet's logistics operations, directed Dupleix and Kanawha to sail to the distressed ship and rescue its 16-person crew, consisting of 13 Indians, two Burmese and one Sri Lankan.

"We were steaming toward the Suez Canal when the rescue tasking was received," said Kanawha's civil service master Capt. David Gommo. "We were requested to provide assistance to Dupleix, and we steamed 35 miles at top speed to reach the scene."

Kanawha and Dupleix launched their rigid-hull, inflatable boats, or RHIBs, at approximately 9:35 p.m., three quarters of a mile from where the Jai Laxmai was helplessly floating in the turbulent sea.

"This was extreme boating in heavy seas," said Kanawha's chief mate Will McDermott, who manned the RHIB along with cargo engineer Kenny Allen, ordinary seaman Duran Carrillo and a U.S. Navy security detachment Sailor. Kanawha made two trips to Jai Laxmai, evacuating six mariners at a time to Dupleix. Dupleix's RHIB retrieved the other four. "It was a courageous effort to launch our RHIB and safely recover crew members from Laxmai."

"Once on board Dupleix, all 16 rescued crew members were found to be in good health and were subsequently transferred ashore in Salalah, Oman," said Gommo.

"The quick and brave actions of Kanawha's crew represent the finest traditions of mariners helping other mariners in need," said U.S. Navy Capt. Glen Sears, commander of Sealift Logistics Command Central and CTF 53. "This was also a great example of team work with our maritime coalition partners in the French navy aboard the French ship Dupleix. It goes to show the flexibility and readiness of our MSC ships."

Kanawha supported U.S. Navy and coalition ships operating in the Middle East from March 20 through July. The ship, with 90 civil service mariners and a military department of six, is redeployed to the United States.