A bystander’s alert of two boaters stranded at sea ended in a safe and successful rescue thanks to the volunteer efforts of members of the La Societe Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM) sea rescue station in St. Martin and other regional maritime agencies. The harrowing event started when at 6:40 p.m. on February 17 a call came into the SNSM that two boaters were stranded on a broken-down vessel a few nautical miles from Plum Bay, of the island’s northwest coast. SNSM members immediately embarked on a mission with other agency members. They were able to identify the disabled’s boat coordinates as well as establish telephone contact. However, when the SNSM’s rescue vessel arrived, the distressed vessel was not there nor was its crew reachable by phone.
The assisting agencies then established what’s called a ‘Mottley drift scheme’, which calculates the potential drift of a boat, depending on wind speed and sea currents. A Mayday was broadcast via VHF, and a container ship en route to Philipsburg diverted and headed to the search area. It was now over two hours since the bystander’s alert.
The SNSM’s first rescue boat returned to base after an oil leak was discovered. Five SNSM volunteers then left Marina Fort Louis at 9 p.m. on its semi-rigid Rescue Star vessel. They headed out with the information that a several-hour drift would put the disabled boat far to the northwest. The container ship crew soon reported they saw lights some 5 nautical miles northwest of their position and diverted. An hour later, the container ship sided up to a 30-foot-long boat and found the two passengers unharmed. In what was now heavy weather conditions, the Rescue Star didn’t have fuel enough to tow the boat 20 miles back to shore. So, the container ship took up the task arriving at Philipsburg and docking nearly 12 hours after the first call to aid. The well-coordinated effort between the SNSM, fellow maritime agencies, and a passing container ship safely landed the boaters in distress ashore after a long eventful night. www.snsm.org