Tanker diverts to rescue sailor in distress in Caribbean

(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) — U.S. Coast Guard crews and the crew of the chemical tanker Silver Dover assisted a boater in distress Saturday morning in the Caribbean Sea, approximately 57 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Rico.

The 80-year-old man was the sole passenger aboard the 44-foot sailing vessel Tao when the vessel lost steering and the boater lost the ability to simultaneously access the vessel’s compass and emergency tiller.

Coast Guard watch standers in Sector San Juan received a VHF Channel 16 communication from Tao at 1:45 a.m. Saturday reporting the distress and requesting assistance. The watch standers established a communication schedule with the boater and issued a marine assistance request broadcast for any vessel traffic in the area that could render assistance.

U.S. Coast Guard photo

Coast Guard watch standers later experienced broken communications followed by a complete loss of communication with Tao. With expected sea state conditions deteriorating by the hour, watch standers proceeded to transmit an urgent marine information broadcast to advise nearby vessel traffic of a possible distress and directed the launch of a Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter to locate the sailing vessel.

As search and rescue coordination efforts continued, the 600-foot Marshall Islands-flagged Silver Dover responded to the urgent marine information broadcast and diverted to render assistance. As the Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter arrived on scene, Silver Dover came alongside the sailing vessel and embarked the boater.

The Coast Guard air crew then proceeded to deploy its rescue swimmer aboard Tao and activated a self-locating datum marker buoy to maintain awareness of the vessel’s position and advise vessel traffic to be on the lookout for the unmanned sailing vessel.

Silver Dover reported the boater to be in good health and that he would remain aboard the tanker until the ship reached its destination in Houston, Texas.

“This case highlights the well-known willingness of commercial shipping vessels such as the tank ship Silver Dover to divert from their regular routes to aid a fellow mariner,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kimberly Shadwick, U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan search and rescue mission coordinator for the case. “We appreciate the coordination and response efforts of all the Coast Guard personnel and units who participated in this case and wish this boater a safe journey and reunification with his family and loved ones.”

– U.S. Coast Guard

By Rich Miller