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September 2010

MSC heroes: Ericsson, Swift and Mercy to the rescue(s)
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By Meghan Patrick Henderson and James Marconi, MSC Public Affairs

Using a P-100 pump to extinguish a fire on Indonesian passenger ferry boat MV Wetar
Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy Able Seaman Anthony Jones, left, and First Officer Matthew Bush use a P-100 pump to extinguish a fire on Indonesian passenger ferry boat MV Wetar in the Port of Ambon, Indonesia, July 29. U.S. Navy photo by Second Officer Grant Begley

In the line of duty, Military Sealift Command's civil service mariners and civilian contract mariners routinely face risks inherent to life at sea. Their hard-earned skills help them successfully complete their missions and bring them safely back to port. This July, these mariners ensured that several other, less fortunate sea goers made it home, too. Spanning the globe from Guatemala to the Philippines, MSC crews were instrumental in several life-saving operations at sea. The crews of MSC fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericsson, MSC-chartered high-speed vessel HSV 2 Swift and MSC hospital ship USNS Mercy all distinguished themselves by their heroism in responding ably to those in distress.

Civil service mariners aboard Ericsson rescued five Filipino fishermen from the South China Sea 10 miles off the coast of Subic Bay, Philippines, July 14, nine hours after their boat capsized in rough seas as Typhoon Conson passed over the island of Luzon.

Ericsson had departed the port at Subic Bay July 13 to avoid the storm, and was conducting regular operations when Able Seaman Charles Wright spotted the fishermen clinging to their overturned boat and waving a yellow flag.

Moments later, Ericsson's mariners lowered the ship's rigid-hull, inflatable boat into the sea. Within 10 minutes, the five fishermen were assisted safely onto Ericsson's deck, where they were promptly examined by a physician.

"The fishermen were a bit shaken up because the seas were rough, but otherwise they were in good health and happy to be on our ship," said Tiffany Brockman, Ericsson's chief mate. "We gave them fresh clothing, new socks and boots, and a nice meal."

Ericsson brought the fishermen to shore a few hours after their rescue and turned their care over to the Philippines Coast Guard.

"The crew was excited to have played a role in helping these fishermen," Brockman added, noting that Ericsson had several Tagalog-speaking members on its crew, which made communication easy. "At first, nobody was happy that we had to sortie due to the typhoon, but being able to help these mariners in need made it all worth it."

A few days before the Ericsson rescue, sailors and merchant mariners from Swift rescued seven Guatemalan special forces sailors from their capsized boat off the coast of Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala.

The Guatemalan vessel capsized during a Guatemalan drug interdiction operation July 10 as it became entangled with a sinking semi-submersible drug boat.

Upon arrival at the scene, Swift's crew transferred the Guatemalan sailors, who were suffering from exposure, aboard the ship. The four personnel who were aboard the drug boat were transferred to a Guatemalan coast guard vessel.

Upon returning to Puerto Quetzal, Swift's crew and the rescued sailors received a hero's welcome from Brig. Gen. Juan Jose Ruiz Morales, chief of staff of national defense in Guatemala, and a receiving line of Guatemalan service members. Morales personally thanked the crew members for their aid in the rescue.

Swift is deployed for Southern Partnership Station 2010, a five-month deployment consisting of various specialty platforms to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility in the Caribbean and Central America. The primary goal of the mission, which is scheduled to end Sept. 30, is information exchanging with navies, coast guards and civilian services throughout these regions.

Mercy also responded to a rescue and assist situation when four crew members took the lead in firefighting operations for MV Wetar, a small Indonesian passenger ferry, in Indonesia July 29.

Mercy's First Officer Matthew Bush was working on the bridge when he noticed a large cloud of smoke coming from nearly two miles away at the Port of Ambon. Upon closer inspection with binoculars, Bush saw that Wetar's hull was on fire. Under the direction of Mercy's master, Capt. David Bradshaw, Bush quickly assembled a firefighting team and dispatched one of Mercy's rigid-hull, inflatable boats to the scene.

When the team of Bush, Second Officer Grant Begley, Boatswain's Mate Cromwell Rafol and Able Seaman Anthony Jones arrived at Wetar, which had suffered an engine room fire while moored outboard of another vessel in port, the CIVMARs began to help as soon as they saw that local firefighting measures were inadequate. Although Wetar's crew abandoned their vessel while pierside, Bush, Begley, Rafol and Jones fought the fire from the RHIB for more than two hours, providing the primary source of firefighting capabilities amid a small flotilla of local vessels.

"Once visible signs of fire were extinguished along Wetar's starboard main deck and 01 level, the fire broke out from Wetar's wheelhouse and we proceeded to concentrate our efforts there until no visible signs of fire were present," said Bush.

The efforts of Mercy's four crew members, who rotated through the four positions on the boat as coxswain, nozzleman, pumpman and hose tender, allowed Wetar to be taken under tow, contained the fire and bought time for a better-equipped responder to arrive on scene to extinguish the fire permanently. By that evening Wetar was back at a berth with major damage, but still afloat.

"Second Officer Begley is to be commended for his extraordinary boat handling skills as lead coxswain maintaining station off Wetar," said Boatswain's Mate Rafol and Able Seaman Jones performed brilliantly during every phase of the response and served as nozzlemen during the majority of the incident."

Mercy, one of MSC's two hospital ships, visited Indonesia as part of Pacific Partnership 2010, a five-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission to Southeast Asia.