2013 IMO Exceptional Bravery At Sea Award – And the winners are…

Left to Right: Aviation Survival Technicians (AST) Randy Haba and Daniel Todd. IMO 2013 Bravery Awards, London, 25th January 2013. Image (c) International Maritime Organization
Left to Right: Aviation Survival Technicians (AST) Randy Haba and Daniel Todd. IMO 2013 Bravery Awards, London, 25th January 2013. Image (c) International Maritime Organization

Two U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers, ASTs Randy Haba and Daniel Todd, for saving the lives of 14 crew members from the tall ship HMS Bounty during Hurricane Sandy, and, posthumously, to a seafarer from China, Mr. Jinguo Yang, who died trying to save the life of a ferry passenger.

We actually first heard of the 2013 award recipients back in June, but the awards were officially presented Monday during a ceremony IMO Headquarters in London.

The IMO’s Exceptional Bravery at Sea Award is handed out every year to provide international recognition for those who, at the risk of losing their own life, perform acts of exceptional bravery, displaying outstanding courage in attempting to save life at sea or in attempting to prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment. Every year the recipients are awarded with a medal and a certificate citing the act of exceptional bravery performed.

This year’s winners were chosen and unanimously endorsed by the IMO Council from a total of 34 nominations from 10 Member States and two non-governmental organizations. In addition to the award itself, the IMO Council also honored 6 with Certificates of Commendation and another 12 with Letters of Commendation. Here’s their story…

Aviation Survival Technicians Randy J. Haba and Daniel J. Todd:

On October 2012, the replica sailing ship HMS Bounty became caught up in the deadly path of Hurricane Sandy. Shortly before first light, the ship was sinking, but the crew managed to put out a distress call – a call that was heard by the United States Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, in North Carolina. Two rescue helicopters were immediately dispatched. Aboard them were aviation survival technicians Randy Haba and Daniel Todd.

After flying through the outer bands of Hurricane Sandy, in strong winds and torrential rain, they found the ship, partially submerged within a large debris field, and surrounded by life rafts.

AST Haba was the first to arrive at the scene. Descending into the stormy waters, he spent an hour battling strong currents and 10 metre waves, in driving wind and rain, taking survivors from the life rafts to the waiting rescue basket. Overcoming exhaustion and fatigue, AST Haba demonstrated the utmost determination and perseverance, performing two more rescues without the use of a mask. He exhibited exceptional strength and endurance throughout the entire rescue.

His colleague, AST Todd, arrived 30 minutes later and immediately deployed into the turbulent sea to begin the task of reaching another life raft. He began straight away to extract stricken survivors from the raft and deliver them to the safety of the rescue basket.

His strength and ingenuity expedited the rescue of the six survivors. By acting so promptly, he saved valuable time – time which he used to reposition himself to a second life raft, containing three additional survivors, whom he also successfully rescued.

Both men overcame the effects of cold, fatigue and ingesting sea water to deliver a total of 14 crew members of HMS Bounty to safety.

Both Haba and Todd were on hand to receive their medal and certificates.

Mr. Jinguo Yang (posthumous award):

On 15 March 2012, the ferry Tong Chang Qi Du 11 collided with the cargo ship Shun Qiang 28 on the Yangtze river. The ferry’s hull was damaged and, despite the assistance of two rescue ships, the vessel immediately began to sink. There were 33 persons on board, 31 of whom were subsequently saved during the search and rescue operation and transferred to a rescue ship. But one passenger was trapped. A lorry driver, whose vehicle had been severely damaged in the collision, was unable to force his way out of his truck.

But then, Mr. Yang, aged 55, one of the crew members from the stricken ferry who had already been rescued and brought to safety, decided to act. Mr Yang jumped back onto the sinking ferry and attempted, repeatedly, to prize open the jammed door of the truck in order to rescue the trapped passenger. Unfortunately, the ferry lost its stability and capsized. Mr. Yang was unable to save the passenger’s life and, in the process of trying, tragically gave up his own. Although he had the opportunity to escape at the last moment, he chose instead, at the cost of his own life, to stay and spend his final moments selflessly attempting to rescue the trapped passenger.

Two hours later, Mr. Yang was found by an offshore rescue team in the Yangtze River.

On that fateful March night, Mr Yang displayed truly extraordinary bravery and concern for the passengers aboard his vessel. He is a worthy recipient of the 2013 IMO Bravery Award for his actions which went far beyond the call of duty, at great risk and danger to himself, and eventually cost him the ultimate price.

The winners wife, Mrs. Gu Meiying, received the certificate and medal on his behalf.

Certificates of Commendation Recipients:

  • Captain Xinming Ning, Master of the container vessel Sheng Da 88, nominated by China, for rescuing the 2nd officer’s seven-month old baby, from the Sheng Da 88 which was sinking rapidly, having collided with the container vessel Jiang Xia Xing;
  • the crew of the speedboat Zhongguo Yuzheng 44246, Dianbai Branch of Guangdong Fishery Administration General Brigade, nominated by China, for rescuing 11 crew members of the fishing boat Yuedianyu 53018, which had suffered engine failure, during a typhoon;
  • Mr. Fabian Higgins, paramedic and rescue diver, Western Cape Emergency Medical Services and Constable Heino Uhde, diver, South African Police Services Diving Unit, nominated by South Africa, for rescuing three passengers trapped under the capsized charter sightseeing catamaran Miroshga, during darkness and in freezing cold water;
  • Captain Vladimir Safonov and the crew of the M/T DS Crown, nominated by the United Kingdom, for rescuing 24 crew members of the container vessel MSC Flaminia which had exploded and was ablaze;
  • Lieutenant David A. Middleton, Lieutenant David M. Stern and AMT3 Andrew J. Witruke, Air crew of the helicopter CG 6502, Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, US Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco, nominated by the United States of America, for rescuing a crew member suffering severe chest pains, from the M/V Matsuura, in very demanding weather conditions; and
  • Mr. Damien Bolton, helmsman, Mr. Matthew Main, crew member, and Ms Nicola-Jane Bradbury, crew member, Port Isaac Lifeboat Station, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, United Kingdom, nominated by the International Maritime Rescue Federation, for rescuing, at great personal risk, a father and son who had been swept off cliffs into an arc of semi-submerged rocks in very rough waters. The father, sadly, did not survive the ordeal.

Letters of Commendation Recipients:

  • Mr. Hong Yanchen, rescue swimmer of the rescue helicopter B-7327, Donghai No.1 Rescue Flying Service, nominated by China;
  • the crew of the rescue vessel Dong Hai Jiu 111, Donghai Rescue Bureau, nominated by China;
  • the crew of the rescue vessel Bei Hai Jiu 115, Beihai Rescue Bureau, nominated by China;
  • the crew of the rescue helicopter B-7309, Beihai No.1, Rescue Flying Service, nominated by China;
  • the crew of the rescue tugboat Nan Hai Jiu 111, Nanhai Rescue Bureau, nominated by China;
  • Mr. Charles Fereol-Talbot, senior technician for sustainable development, Mr. Sony Bamberg and Mr. Charly Luissint, marine registry representatives, Directorate of the Sea, Guadeloupe, nominated by France;
  • Commander (ITCG) Pilot Andrea Vitali, Commandant of the 2nd Air Base of the Italian Coast Guard of Catania, and Commandant of the AW 139 SAR helicopter “Nemo 11-02”, nominated by Italy;
  • Lieutenant (ITCG) Pilot Luca De Ponti, Commandant of the AB 412 SAR helicopter “Koala 9-05”, nominated by Italy;
  • 1st Petty Officer Pedro Gutiérrez Santibañez, diver of the vessel ARE 01 Otomi, Mexican Navy, nominated by Mexico;
  • Captain Jeong-Young Hyun, Master of the fishing boat 501 Dae-Yang, Captain Gyung-Woo Kang, Master of the fishing boat 2002 Myoung-Sung, and Captain Hyun-Sik Shin, Master of the fishing boat 808 Woo-Jung, nominated by the Republic of Korea;
  • Captain Wing-Bu Lee and the crew of the M/V Jin Fu, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), China, nominated by the Republic of Korea; and
  • the Master and crew of the patrol ship 317, Republic of Korea Coast Guard, nominated by the Republic of Korea.

Thank you all for your bravery and, in one case, sacrifice.