7 December 2023

Sea Swift rescues crew from sinking trawler near Bloomfield River

| Matt Nicholls
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Sea Swift workers with the crew of the FV Santiego after they were pulled from their sinking boat. Pictures: Sea Swift

The crew aboard Sea Swift’s Albatross Bay have been hailed as life-savers after rescuing crew from a sinking vessel last week while en route from Cairns to Horn Island.

The Albatross Bay received an emergency call from the Joint Rescue Communications Centre (JRCC) just after 6pm that a nearby trawler vessel, the FV Santiego, was in distress and uncontactable.

Following several unsuccessful attempts to contact the Santiego using VHF radio, a request was made for Sea Swift’s vessel to divert to the scene.

Upon arrival, the Sea Swift crew made contact with the vessel and determined the ship was sinking and unsalvageable.

The Albatross Bay’s rescue vessel was then deployed and approached the sinking vessel, with Santiego crews reporting that the main engine was underwater, the generator had failed and the batteries were flat, causing them to abandon ship.

The skipper of the prawn trawler, Steve Underhill, said he found water pouring into the engine room.

“It was way too deep to worry about pumping out,” he told ABC Far North

“We’d already lost it.”

Mr Underhill was joined on board by his wife and stepson, as well as another crew member.

The Santiego crew activated an emergency distress beacon and, within 20 minutes, a Border Force plane flew over the trawler while the Albatross Bay mobilised to rescue the crew.

The FV Santiego took on too much water and eventually sunk near the Bloomfield River on Tuesday night.

“We got to sit on the main boat until Sea Swift came over and picked us up and we all watched it sink,” Mr Underhill said.

“Plan B was to go on to shore, set up camp and wait for the rescue there.”

The Volunteer Coast Guard picked the crew up and took them to Cooktown.

“I’ve fished all my life, mate – it was pretty well controlled,” Mr Underhill said.

“Everyone was safe.”

Mr Underhill told the ABC that the trawler was old.

“The owner had just spent a lot of money on the boat trying to get it going again for us and it was just coming together.”

Sea Swift managing director Chris Pearce said he was immensely proud of the Albatross Bay crew’s ability to pivot and assist others in such an emergency.

“Our team’s swift action and expertise exemplify Sea Swift’s commitment to safety and service in northern Australian waters,” he said.

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