Crews of four U.S.-flagged vessels honored for heroism


(NEW YORK) — The officers and crew of four American-flag vessels were recognized for heroism at sea at the United Seamen’s Service’s 53rd annual Admiral of the Ocean Sea (AOTOS) Awards.

The event, held Oct. 28, also honored Edward Aldridge, president of CMA-CGM North America and American President Lines; Harold Daggett, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association; and Eric Ebeling, president and CEO of the American Roll-on Roll-off Carrier Group.

The Honored Seafarer AOTOS plaques went to:

• CMA CGM Herodote — The American-flagged containership was sailing from Saipan to Japan on March 21 when it saw smoke on the horizon. Ship master Donald Moore immediately changed course to investigate.

Eight nautical miles away, they discovered a Japanese fishing vessel, Yuujin Maru 51, engulfed in flames. The 55-foot trawler was burned from the superstructure to the waterline, eradicating visible name and designating marks, and Herodote crew saw no signs of survivors.

Herodote launched a search pattern 100 miles off the Japanese coast near Tanegashima Island to scan the area for signs of survivors, also calling for assistance from other merchant vessels in the area and the U.S. Coast Guard Command Center in Hawaii, while coordinating with the Japanese coast guard. Woodside Rogers, a Greek-flagged tanker, responded to assist in the search.

Herodote searched for seven hours, spotting three fishermen in the frigid waters. The three men were the only survivors of a crew of eight. The Greek tanker transported the men to safety.

Moore and his Herodote crew have been awarded the Coast Guard Certificate of Merit by the Coast Guard Sector Guam. The award was presented at Coast Guard Micronesia Sector headquarters by Capt. Nick Simmons. Simmons, in praising the Herodote crew, said, “The efforts of Capt. Moore and his crew honor the nautical tradition of assisting fellow mariners. Their bias for action and commitment were on display that day. Merchant mariners are an integral part of the global search and rescue enterprise, and especially in the vast Pacific, they are essential to saving lives.”

• Maersk Peary — The American tanker was steaming across the Aegean Sea north of Crete en route to the Suez Canal the evening of Dec. 22, 2021 when Rescue Center Piraeus in Greece requested urgent assistance finding a capsized vessel with about 80 people on board.

Maersk Peary was less than 14 miles from the downed vessel and made immediate course changes to enter a search grid established by the Greek coast guard, arriving in minutes. The ship’s master, Everett Hatton, began maneuvering slowly into the zone while his crew mobilized a launch crew with its rescue boat. An hour into the search, with searchlights scanning the waters, Hatton spotted a white object in the water.

The third mate and bosun zeroed in on the object with binoculars as the 590-foot Maersk Peary cut its engine, launched the rescue boat loaded with blankets and proceeded toward the object — later identified as a boat fender — and found a survivor clinging to it. The chief mate tried to communicate with the man, but the exhausted survivor was shivering and unable to speak. The man was pulled from the chilly waters and onto the rescue boat.

Within 15 minutes, about 2230, the Maersk Peary rescue boat linked up with the Greek coast vessel OSP707 and transferred the survivor. The American ship continued its grid search for another four hours before being relieved by Greek Search and Rescue Command.

Authorities rescued 62 of the estimated 80 migrants aboard the sinking boat. Sixteen bodies were recovered from the water. The migrants are believed to have sailed from Turkey.

Hatton lauded his Maersk Peary crew for their professionalism and rapid response to an emergency situation. Maersk Peary had just finished loading fuel to be delivered to McMurdo Sound in Antarctica.

• Pacific Tracker — The research/survey ship, operated by TOTE Services, was sailing off the coast of California on July 10 when the call came from Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center Alameda: Locate the sailing vessel Perplexity somewhere near you more than 500 nautical miles off the coast. Aboard Perplexity was an injured sailor bleeding uncontrollably, too far from the Southern California coast to be reached by helicopter.

Pacific Tracker made an immediate turn and began the search for the sailing vessel about 100 miles away. The ship, used in gathering telemetry for ballistic missile tests, was looking for the proverbial “needle in the haystack” to locate Perplexity, which had been participating in a race. Hours later, at approximately 1845, the 20-foot sailing vessel was in sight.

Launching a fast work boat, crew from Pacific Tracker lifted the seaman, who had been experiencing an uncontrolled nosebleed for several days, from the sailing boat and on board the ship. The sailor’s condition was immediately stabilized while Pacific Tracker turned toward the California coast to facilitate a medevac transfer. While Pacific Tracker was steaming to the shoreline, its crew was in contact with the U.S. Coast Guard and doctors.

Mid-morning on July 12, a Coast Guard helicopter reached Pacific Tracker and medevaced the now-stable patient and transferred him to a shoreside hospital.

The actions of the Pacific Tracker crew is in the highest dedication to maritime safety and rescues, and reflects great credit upon the Missile Defense Agency, the Maritime Administration and the U.S. maritime industry.

• USNS Yuma (T-EPF 8)
Military Sealift Command
Eastern Mediterranean Sea
September 1, 2022

A humanitarian disaster was averted and the life of an infant saved by USNS Yuma, a Military Sealift Command ship, while on routine operations Sept. 1 in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. It received a call to assist and raced to the scene after a Maltese tanker, Nore, was struck by a vessel carrying migrants that Nore was towing. With more than 90 migrant men, women and children on board, the vessel had begun sinking following the collision.

USNS Yuma. Austal USA photo

USNS Yuma, joined by Italian warship Libeccio, deployed a rigid inflatable boat to render assistance, rescuing 35 male migrants who were provided life jackets, food, water and basic medical care. Families were pulled aboard Libeccio, including a 4-month-old girl who was ashen and responsive. USNS Yuma, at Libeccio’s request, raced its nurse practitioner over, then made another shuttle run with medical supplies. The medical officer was able to stabilize the baby before returning to USNS Yuma.

All of the migrants were rescued and the 35 aboard USNS Yuma were transferred to a Maltese patrol boat while Libeccio, with the other 58, raced toward Italy. A medevac flight picked up the critically ill child.

USNS Yuma resumed its patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility. The seamanship, professionalism and selflessness of the crew of USNS Yuma is representative of the thousands of civil service mariners who are sailing ships for the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command.

Since the start of the AOTOS Award in 1970, the United Seamen’s Service has honored more than 300 American vessels and individual seafarers for heroism, also called “the brotherhood of the sea.”

– United Seamen’s Service

By Rich Miller