Port Hedland VTS’s coordinated rescue secures nomination for VTS Award

When Port Hedland VTS received notification of four people clinging to a vessel in the anchorage zone, they wasted no time co-ordinating local assets to effect a rescue worthy of a nomination for the Australian VTS Award.
cape reliance vts

VTS Officer Paul McLaughlin was not far into his shift when at 20:36 he received the call from the Master on Cape Reliance alerting Port Hedland VTS to the four people in the water. 

‘Cape Reliance was anchored within the VTS coverage area approximately 10 nautical miles from the nearest land and only 100 metres from the upturned vessel, so I asked if they could launch their rescue craft,’ Paul explained.

‘Meanwhile, at Port Hedland VTS we also initiated emergency procedures, mobilising the Water Police, Volunteer Marine Rescue and other water assets, including a pilot boat, marine pilot transfer helicopter and tugs to assist with the search and rescue.’

Being in close proximity, the Cape Reliance recue vessel was the first to retrieve two of the four recreational fishermen out of the water. The pilot boat then arrived on site shortly after, picking up the other two.

While the four rescued men were being transported back ashore, Port Hedland VTS liaised with the police and the hospital to make sure the ambulance was on standby. 

‘Arrangements were made to bring the people back to the commercial jetty where Port Authority’s security personnel and St Johns Ambulance paramedics were able to provide medical support,’ Paul said.

After clinging onto their capsized vessel for almost seven hours, the four recreational fishermen were in shock and suffering from hypothermia. 

‘Given the onset of darkness, the temperature of the water and the currents that run through the anchorage, I think they were just relieved that someone had spotted them,’ Paul said. 

‘They were very lucky. They had been setting off hand flares, but despite outbound shipping in the early evening and tugs coming and going, no-one had spotted them since their vessel had overturned in the early afternoon.’

‘The way those currents move through that anchorage, if it had gone too much longer they would have moved out of sight and that would have possibly been a different story.’

Port Hedland Harbour Master Myron Fernandes said he nominated Port Hedland VTS for the Australian VTS Award because the rescue highlighted the positive collaboration Port Hedland VTS has with local stakeholders and its commitment to ensuring safe and efficient port operations.

‘Rescues like this occur fairly regularly across Australian ports however, the challenges posed in a remote port like Port Hedland make the efforts more remarkable and the positive outcome more gratifying,’ he said.

‘Being a remote location, it’s all about the relationships and preparation. Despite being the largest bulk port in the world, we are also very remote, so rescue operations are often a joint effort.’

‘Our staff, including the Vessel Traffic Services Officers, go through robust and regular training process so no matter what the emergency, they know how to respond.’

The annual Australian VTS Award recognises an outstanding contribution by a VTS beyond their normal operational scope. 

Find out how to nominate for the Australian Vessel Traffic Service Award.

Last updated: 3 May 2022