IMO honors Coast Guard rescue swimmer for bravery

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The following is text of a news release from the International Maritime Organization (IMO):

(LONDON) — Petty Officer Michael Kelly, a rescue swimmer with the United States Coast Guard, received the 2019 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea during this year's IMO Awards ceremony on Nov. 25.

Kelly was recognized for his courage, perseverance and skill in rescuing four survivors from a life raft from a sinking fishing vessel, in extremely high winds, battling huge waves to swim to rescue each survivor and get them winched to safety.

Kelly, aviation survival technician second class, Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, was nominated by the United States for his part in the rescue operation in November 2018.

Accepting the award, Kelly said it was an immeasurable honour and truly humbling to be recognised by the International Maritime Organization, the global organization that sets the standards for maritime safety and security. He acknowledged the teamwork involved in the rescue.

"I would not be here if it was not for the amazing skills of my crew. Their precision and focus allowed me to act as a tiny cog in the large process of search and rescue, that we are all so passionate about and train for daily," Kelly said. "There is nothing more precious than human life and we all strive to go home to the ones we love."

Four rescued from fishing vessel

On Nov. 14, 2018, during heavy storms, the crew of the rescue helicopter CG6032 was directed to provide assistance to the sinking fishing vessel Aaron and Melissa II. The vessel's four crewmembers were abandoning ship in very severe weather conditions, 70 miles off the coast of Maine.

After taking off, the helicopter crew immediately encountered very strong turbulence and gusts up to 60 knots. Arriving on scene, the air crew located a life raft, battered by raging seas.

Kelly was immediately deployed into the cold water. Battling 20-foot waves and chasing the raft, which was constantly being blown away by 50-knot winds, he finally managed to reach the anchor line and pull himself to the life raft.

It was a critical situation, with all four survivors suffering from hypothermia. Two were unable to swim, while the flooded raft was in danger of capsizing. With great strength and stamina, Kelly pulled each survivor from the raft, one by one, swimming strongly through the storm to keep them afloat. Each was lifted into the swaying rescue basket to be hoisted to safety.

After each rescue, Kelly was forced to regain lost ground, as the heavy winds continued to push the raft further away. He fought through extreme weather conditions, as well as physical and mental exhaustion, to save the lives of four seafarers in distress.

The IMO Council in July agreed with a panel of judges that Kelly demonstrated truly exceptional bravery and determination.

Letter of commendation

Capt. William Boyce and crew of the car carrier Green Lake were nominated by the United States for the exceptional seamanship, tenacity and leadership demonstrated in rescuing seafarers from the car carrier Sincerity Ace, who had been forced to abandon ship due to a fire on board that had quickly got out of control. The captain of Green Lake skilfully maneuvered his 633-foot vessel safely alongside survivors in the water, in extreme weather conditions of 30 knot winds and 25 foot waves. Over 18 hours, seven crewmembers were rescued. At the same time, Boyce coordinated rescue efforts conducted by three other vessels assisting in the operation, saving the lives of the other survivors.

Boyce was at the ceremony to receive the certificate.

By Professional Mariner Staff