An unexpected New Year's Eve for the 55-year-old KINGSTON - and a generous salvage award, I hopehttp://www.shipspotting.com/gallery/photo.php?lid=2271925
It started with a call at 0945 two days ago, on New Year’s Eve, from a UK broker acting for a German insurance underwriter. “Good Morning Richard, Charles here, I’m afraid this is going to be one of those ‘spoil your day’ phone calls.” (Not a word of a lie there). “An 81 x 11.3 metre cargo vessel is reported adrift off Portland Bill with engine failure and with full crew aboard. Do you have a tug available for a rescue?” My immediate answer was “tug yes, but it’s New Years Eve, already blowing F8, forecast to increase to F9 and our crews are on leave”. I said I would call back in a few minutes.
Operations Manager, Damian Lockie, quickly confirmed that no Master or Chief Engineer could be brought to Poole quickly enough to mount a rescue, so Jon Evelegh (knowing the risks and the weather conditions) with a deep sigh, said that the only way it could be done would be if the management team manned the tug, accompanied by two local and long standing Griffin Towage crew. As Jon and Damian are both highly experienced tug Masters and the two other crew, Carl and Colin were also highly experienced in their roles, we really had a ‘dream team’ for the operation ..... although slightly reluctant as everyone had family celebrations planned for New Year’s Eve and the weather conditions were treacherous. Having prepared the tow wire and bridle whilst alongside her berth, by 1630 tug Kingston departed to sail the short distance from Poole to the Belgian cargo ship ‘Pilsum’, dragging her anchor between Portland Bill and Swanage.
"Just as we were preparing to sail the Coastguard alerted us to a new gale warning issued at 15:44, warning ‘severe gale force 9 increasing storm force 10 imminent’ and the Coastguard asked if we were still going to sail on that basis" said Jon. "We were aware the ship was making way fast towards the rocks and that no other tugs had offered to assist, so regardless of the conditions we felt we must sail and do what we could for them”. When we got there, the seas were horrendous, with waves as high as houses....... all exacerbated by being in the middle of the overfalls off St Albans Head”, says Jon. “The worst I have ever seen.” Damian commented, “The seas were mountainous. One moment I was looking at the underside of the bulbous bow of Pilsum and with the next wave I was looking down on the ship’s deck crew, from above”. Both Weymouth and Swanage lifeboats were called out and stood by whilst the rescue was attempted.
In those conditions it was immediately apparent that it would be impossible to get a tow wire safely across to the Pilsum, so Kingston sailed on to get out of the overfalls, whilst her deck crew rigged a tow rope. She then re-approached the Pilsum, but it took no less than eleven attempts to get the tow rope properly secured. “The main problem was communication”, says Jon. “Apart from a slight language difficulty over nautical terms with a foreign language speaking bridge crew, the Master of the Pilsum had great difficulty being heard and understood by his crew working on the foredeck, with the bridge instructions coming from over 70 metres away, in horrendous wind and sea conditions.
The Pilsum crew were also (quite understandably) not familiar with towage and initially belayed the messenger line, not realising this had to be fully pulled in, so the actual tow rope could be secured. It was also very difficult to gauge exactly how much slack to allow in the messenger line and tow rope, whilst trying to get connected in such huge seas. Too little and it was snatched out of the Pilsum crew’s hands on the next wave. Too much and there was a real risk of it fouling Kingston’s propeller”. The drama of getting safely connected took a full hour and both vessels came within 1,500 metres of the rocks on a lee shore. “If we had got the propeller fouled, that would have been it”, says Jon. “We would all have been on the rocks. It was far too close for comfort”
So concerned was Solent Coastguard, who were co-ordinating the rescue, that Air Sea Rescue helicopters were put on standby, together with anti pollution contingencies, to try and prevent an environmental catastrophe on the beautiful and historic Dorset Jurassic Coast. However, once securely connected, the Kingston’s crew were still in a high state of concern. “I was not at all happy about towing Pilsum in these conditions with rope”, says Jon. “I had no idea of the condition of Pilsum’s fairleads. Under the extreme tension of this tow, in these sea conditions, even a small rough edge could have chafed though the rope in minutes. At any moment there was a risk of the rope parting, leaving the casualty vessel adrift again”
Fortunately, the rest of the rescue went without a hitch, although as it was now the early hours of New Year’s day, and the nearest safe haven port of Poole was closed (as was Portland). So tug Kingston and the Pilsum anchored in the lee of Poole Bay to await instructions. Later, Poole Harbour advised that there was no berth available for Pilsum until another vessel left in 24 hours time. During this long wait to enter Poole, after such a dramatic and exhausting rescue, Jon Evelegh thought he would board Pilsum and find out from the Engineer why their engines had failed. Jon, being an experienced ship’s engineer as well, identified the problem as a fault with an air actuator on the fuel rack, and managed to have the engine running sweetly within a couple of hours; to the astonishment, excitement and relief of the ship’s engineer and Master.
Kingston and Pilsum safely entered Poole Harbour this morning and berthed around 0900, with Pilsum coming in under her own power. So the broker was right: that phone call on New Year’s Eve did spoil the day at Griffin Towage, but was a very welcome call for the crew, underwriters and owners of the Pilsum. Congratulations to the crew of both vessels; many thanks to Solent Coatsguard and the crews of Weymouth and Swanage lifeboats and a belated Happy New Year to them all. (Press Release Griffin Towage – 3 Jan 2018)
And an honourable mention in a surprising place:https://www.facebook.com/swanagelifeboat/videos/10155093409911003/