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 (25 November)
Petty Officer 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.
Petty Officer Kelly, Aviation Survival Technician Second Class, Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, United States Coast Guard, was nominated by the United States of America for his part in the rescue operation in November 2018.
Accepting the award, Petty Officer Kelly said it was an immeasurable honour and truly humbling to be recognised by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), 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,” Mr. 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 14 November 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 crew members were abandoning ship in very severe weather conditions, 70 miles off the Coast of Maine, United States.
After taking off, the helicopter crew immediately encountered very strong turbulence and gusts up to 60 knots. Arriving on scene, the aircrew located a life raft, battered by raging seas.
AST2 Michael 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, AST2 Michael 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, AST2 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 AST2 Kelly demonstrated truly exceptional bravery and determination.
Certificates of Commendation
During the award ceremony, four certificates of commendation were also presented:
- The members of the emergency rescue team of Guangzhou Salvage involved in the rescue operation of the dredger Rong Chang 8, nominated by China, The rescue team were involved in rescuing two people who had been trapped for 55 hours inside the capsized dredger Rong Chang 8, which was drifting bottom up in the water. They were nominated by China for their tireless efforts and courage in diving multiple times through debris for several hours, fighting strong ocean currents.
Mr. Wang Hongwei, Maritime Councillor at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in London, received the certificate on their behalf.
- Corvette Lieutenant of the Naval Infantry Juan Mateo Cabrera (posthumously). He was nominated by Mexico, for sacrificing his own life while helping other crew members to abandon their helicopter, which had crashed into the sea during routine maritime surveillance operations. The helicopter was sinking rapidly, but Lieutenant Cabrera managed to help three of his fellow crew members to escape to the surface. Sadly, he did not survive the ordeal and his body was recovered five days later.
Rear Admiral Leopoldo Jesús Díaz González Solórzano, Alternate Permanent Representative of Mexico to IMO, received the certificate on behalf of Lieutenant Juan Mateo Cabrera’s family.
- Captain Mioc Zeljko and crew of the M/V APL Vancouver, nominated by Singapore, for the bravery, determination and professionalism displayed while fighting a fire that broke out in a cargo hold and had quickly spread to the containers on deck. Captain Mioc Zeljko and his crew tirelessly fought the fire for more than 36 hours, keeping it under control until the arrival of fire-fighting tugs and the Vietnamese Coast Guard. As a result of their courageous actions, 24 lives on board were saved, further damage to the ship was prevented and a serious marine pollution incident was averted.
Captain Mioc Zeljko was at the ceremony to receive the certificate
- Captain William Boyce and crew of the car carrier Green Lake, 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 the Green Lake skilfully manoeuvred his 633-foot long vessel safely alongside survivors in the water, in extreme weather conditions of 30 knot winds and 25 foot waves. Over 18 hours, seven crew members were rescued. At the same time, Captain Boyce coordinated rescue efforts conducted by three other vessels assisting in the operation, saving the lives of the other survivors.
Captain William Boyce was at the ceremony to receive the certificate.
Letters of Commendation
Letters of commendation have been sent to:
- Captain Huang Zhibin, Commander of the rescue helicopter B-7310, Donghai Rescue Bureau, nominated by China, for the challenging rescue of all nine crew members of the stranded ship Linfune 16, in the midst of Super Typhoon Mangosteen.
- Lieutenant Commander Julien Kervago, Sub-lieutenant Alexandre Guillet, Petty Officer Brice Jarreau and Petty Officer William Leprêtre, crew of the helicopter Panther, Flotilla 36F, French Navy, nominated by France, for the professionalism and expertise demonstrated in the rescue of six people, including a five year old child, from the sailing vessel Jab de Mer, in heavy seas.
- Captain Manuel B. Balinquit, Master of the M/V Star Norita, nominated by the Philippines, for rescuing two fishers from a sinking vessel and staying at the scene until four more fishers were rescued by the MRCC Vladivostok rescue team.
- Captain Heo Yeong-il, Master of the fishing vessel 2017 Manseok, nominated by the Republic of Korea, for rescuing 10 fishers from the flooding vessel 3088 Moon Chang, which had collided with another fishing boat. Captain Heo Yeong-il prevented the sinking of the vessel, thus avoiding serious damage to the marine environment.
- The Captain and crew of the patrol vessel 3010, Gunsan Coast Guard Station, Republic of Korea Coast Guard, nominated by the Republic of Korea, for extinguishing a raging fire on board the fishing vessel Zhe Ling Yu 28925. The lives of all eight crew members were saved and a serious marine pollution incident was averted.
- Captain Oleg Goncharov, Master of the floating plant/fish factory vessel Dalmos, nominated by the Russian Federation, for coordinating the rescue operation of 10 crew members found in a life raft, after their ship sank, in severe weather.
- Mr. Mykhailo Myroniuk, Second Officer of the tanker Anuket Amber, nominated by Ukraine, for his leadership and great resolve after pirates took control of the ship and kidnapped the Master, Chief Officer and 10 other crew members. As the highest-ranking officer left on board, he took charge and navigated the vessel to safety.
- The crews of the Motor Lifeboats MLB 47295 and MLB 47229, Station Umpqua River, United States Coast Guard, nominated by the United States, for their combined effort to rescue three survivors from their capsized recreational vessel, in very rough seas and dangerous waters. There was significant debris and the risk of grounding.
IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea
This annual award was established by IMO to provide international recognition for those who, at the risk of losing their own life, perform acts of exceptional bravery in attempting to save life at sea or in attempting to prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment. Such acts of bravery may also involve extraordinary seamanship skills in very difficult conditions or any other display of outstanding courage.
Nominations are scrutinized by an assessment panel made up of members of non‑governmental organizations in consultative status with IMO, under the chair of the Secretary-General. Subsequently, a panel of judges (made up of the Chairs of several IMO bodies) considers the recommendations of the Assessment Panel and selects the recipient.