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Brisbane VTS’s timely intervention earns nomination for 2019-20 Australian VTS Award

The inaugural Australian VTS Award saw Brisbane VTS operators Todd Stewart and Ricky Blake commended for their actions, which had a profound impact on the outcome of two men and a young boy lost at sea. 
Todd Stewart and Ricky Blake

As Todd and Ricky logged on for their shift at Brisbane VTS on 9 June 2019, a crisis was already underway.

When colleagues working the previous shift had overheard on VHF traffic at 2:30 am that a tinnie had capsized about nine miles north-east of Caloundra Head, they had instigated the standard operating emergency procedures and involved the Queensland Water Police and Mooloolaba Coast Guard.

Todd Stewart recalled starting the shift with a gut wrenching feeling.

‘When I started my shift that day it was still pitch black and the search and rescue was already underway. We got briefed on the details―two men and a seven-year-old boy had been out there in the freezing water since 2:30 am. Helicopters and multiple search and rescue vessels were out there looking for the people,’ he said.

Taking over the shift with fresh eyes, Todd and Ricky immediately started reviewing the sitrep they had received from the Queensland Water Police and the information in the handover from the previous shift.

‘Our standard operating procedure for an emergency had been underway since the night before. It was just a case of collating all the information that had been handed over to us and developing a situational awareness of where all the rescue craft were, where the dinghy had first capsized and how we could help,’ Todd explained.

‘We went through the different options of what we could do and came up with the plan to contact the vessels out at anchor via VHF, to get them to keep a lookout for the people as light came with day break,’ Todd said. 

Todd and Ricky thought there could be a chance the two men and the boy or the debris of their boat may have ended up outside of the search area, so they contacted all the ships anchored in the Port Cartwright area, which was adjacent to the area being searched.

Incredibly, just 40 minutes later the Master of the North Sea oil tanker radioed Brisbane VTS and reported seeing in the morning twilight, what looked to be people in the water to the south of the ship.

‘When the ship called back to say they had spotted them, we directed the police launch over to the people straight away. The adrenaline was pumping, especially because it happened so fast,’ Todd said.

‘Shortly afterward the Queensland Water Police confirmed they had got the three people out of the water and were rushing them to hospital.’

‘Those two men and the seven-year-old boy had been treading water without life vests in freezing water and darkness for six hours by the time they were rescued.’

Every day of the year, VTS operators throughout Queensland are on the emergency VHF channel 16 maritime safety listening watch between from around 18:00 until 5:30 in the morning. No matter what sort of distress call—a Mayday, Securité or Pan Pan, from a dinghy through to a large ship—VTS responds.

In this case, the Brisbane VTS team had a profound impact on the outcome for those three people by calling on locally anchored ships to extend the search area of the Queensland Water Police and the Mooloolaba Coast Guard. 

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: 

Tuesday 6 October 2020