Encountering migrants at sea


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Dick
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Daria Blackwell - 2 Dec 2021
Graham.Harrison - 2 Dec 2021
Hi Daria 
Writing from personal experience when delivering sailing yacht SEREN from Greece to Wales:-

I was alone on watch late evening at approx 22.00 in the Mediterranean, heading from Almeria towards Gibraltar motoring in light airs  when I noticed a white light about 5 degrees off the starboard bow, initially as it went out occasionally, I assumed it might be a distant fishing boat but as we drew closer I thought it could be a local fisherman who have a habit of sitting at anchor with no lights and switching on a white head torch at the last minute. 
Approaching within about 100 metres of the light there was a lot of shouting and I thought we might be about to run over a fishing net so I cut the engine and steered in a circle around the light, switched on a spotlight and saw three youths sitting on a jetski, now all yelling in a language I did not recognise and all waving their mobile phone lights and apparently out of fuel. We did pick out what sounded like 'Morocco' several times so assumed that was where they were from.

I immediately got the rest of the crew on deck to assess our options, these guys were in trouble, 12 miles from the Spanish coast, dressed in light tee shirts.
I had heard stories of skippers and yachts getting into trouble for assisting migrants in the Med so we decided to stand off a distance and circled the jetski at 50 metres as we were fearful someone might be desperate enough to try to swim across to our yacht.

In my opinion standing off, out of swimming distance and contacting the nearest coastguard was exactly the right thing to do for a leisure yacht, if one or all had tried to swim over to us I'm not sure of what my response might have been, suddenly it's  'MAYDAY' situation but you can't let them drown, what if there are 50 or 60 of them in a sinking inflatable or in the water? A real dilemma!

We tried to contact the Spanish Coastguard, but got no reply to several transmissions (in English) and eventually decided to make a PAN PAN call which received an immediate response from the Coastguard (in English) then our ships VHF radio failed, so grab the hand held VHF which had been charging for hours but switched itself off after 2 minutes with a flat battery. 
 
We decided to contact Falmouth coastguard by mobile phone and there followed a series of almost comical phone calls where the Spanish Coastguard kept calling "Yacht Sharon" (even after we spelled out 'Seren' several times) linked via Madrid Rescue reminiscent of "The Navy Lark' but eventually 2 1/2 hours later a Spanish rescue launch arrived and collected the three youths and their jetski, the oldest probably 18 and youngest about 12.

We  were over 70 NM from Morocco  and 12NM from Spain and I was surprised a jetski had made it that far from Morocco but when I checked, the Yamaha 3 seat jetski has a max range of about 120 miles, 1800cc engine and 70 litre fuel tank. 
 
It's surprising what comes up over the horizon, we never found out what happened to the youths.



Dear Graham,
Thanks for sharing this story. And I second the congratulations on a successful rescue and outcome. It was rather brilliant to bring the Falmouth CG in to coordinate with the Spanish authorities while you stood by. We've had enough interactions with the Spanish CG to know that effective communication can be rather challenging.

I appreciate that it would have been a different story had the boys decided to swim to you.  Had you thought through what you would do if they did leave the PWC?


Hi All,
Just an fyi: Falmouth CG’s phone number was one I have on speed dial on my phone and sat-phone. There are others, but my casual research indicates they are among the most responsive and competent. Even in waters not covered by their services I would want them to have my l/l and a description of the problem.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Daria Blackwell
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Dick - 2 Dec 2021
Daria Blackwell - 2 Dec 2021
Graham.Harrison - 2 Dec 2021
Hi Daria 
Writing from personal experience when delivering sailing yacht SEREN from Greece to Wales:-

I was alone on watch late evening at approx 22.00 in the Mediterranean, heading from Almeria towards Gibraltar motoring in light airs  when I noticed a white light about 5 degrees off the starboard bow, initially as it went out occasionally, I assumed it might be a distant fishing boat but as we drew closer I thought it could be a local fisherman who have a habit of sitting at anchor with no lights and switching on a white head torch at the last minute. 
Approaching within about 100 metres of the light there was a lot of shouting and I thought we might be about to run over a fishing net so I cut the engine and steered in a circle around the light, switched on a spotlight and saw three youths sitting on a jetski, now all yelling in a language I did not recognise and all waving their mobile phone lights and apparently out of fuel. We did pick out what sounded like 'Morocco' several times so assumed that was where they were from.

I immediately got the rest of the crew on deck to assess our options, these guys were in trouble, 12 miles from the Spanish coast, dressed in light tee shirts.
I had heard stories of skippers and yachts getting into trouble for assisting migrants in the Med so we decided to stand off a distance and circled the jetski at 50 metres as we were fearful someone might be desperate enough to try to swim across to our yacht.

In my opinion standing off, out of swimming distance and contacting the nearest coastguard was exactly the right thing to do for a leisure yacht, if one or all had tried to swim over to us I'm not sure of what my response might have been, suddenly it's  'MAYDAY' situation but you can't let them drown, what if there are 50 or 60 of them in a sinking inflatable or in the water? A real dilemma!

We tried to contact the Spanish Coastguard, but got no reply to several transmissions (in English) and eventually decided to make a PAN PAN call which received an immediate response from the Coastguard (in English) then our ships VHF radio failed, so grab the hand held VHF which had been charging for hours but switched itself off after 2 minutes with a flat battery. 
 
We decided to contact Falmouth coastguard by mobile phone and there followed a series of almost comical phone calls where the Spanish Coastguard kept calling "Yacht Sharon" (even after we spelled out 'Seren' several times) linked via Madrid Rescue reminiscent of "The Navy Lark' but eventually 2 1/2 hours later a Spanish rescue launch arrived and collected the three youths and their jetski, the oldest probably 18 and youngest about 12.

We  were over 70 NM from Morocco  and 12NM from Spain and I was surprised a jetski had made it that far from Morocco but when I checked, the Yamaha 3 seat jetski has a max range of about 120 miles, 1800cc engine and 70 litre fuel tank. 
 
It's surprising what comes up over the horizon, we never found out what happened to the youths.



Dear Graham,
Thanks for sharing this story. And I second the congratulations on a successful rescue and outcome. It was rather brilliant to bring the Falmouth CG in to coordinate with the Spanish authorities while you stood by. We've had enough interactions with the Spanish CG to know that effective communication can be rather challenging.

I appreciate that it would have been a different story had the boys decided to swim to you.  Had you thought through what you would do if they did leave the PWC?


Hi All,
Just an fyi: Falmouth CG’s phone number was one I have on speed dial on my phone and sat-phone. There are others, but my casual research indicates they are among the most responsive and competent. Even in waters not covered by their services I would want them to have my l/l and a description of the problem.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick,
Falmouth CG were super to work with when we supported the pandemic fleets crossing the Atlantic.
Daria

Vice Commodore, OCC 
Graham.Harrison
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Hi Daria
I think if one had tried to swim to us I would initially have tried to avoid picking him up and encouraged him to rejoin the jetski assuming he could get back on board, wet and cold  for a couple hours but if all 3 had jumped in I have no idea how easy / difficult it is to get back on a drifting jetski, I imagine there must be a simple way because they look so easy to lose control of.
Most of my thoughts about Jetskis can't be repeated here but involve torpedoes!! I'm sure there must be a responsible Jetskier somewhere on the planet as the RYA thinks they're OK and RNLI use them for rescue.
Dick
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Daria Blackwell - 2 Dec 2021
Dick - 2 Dec 2021
Daria Blackwell - 2 Dec 2021
Graham.Harrison - 2 Dec 2021
Hi Daria 
Writing from personal experience when delivering sailing yacht SEREN from Greece to Wales:-

I was alone on watch late evening at approx 22.00 in the Mediterranean, heading from Almeria towards Gibraltar motoring in light airs  when I noticed a white light about 5 degrees off the starboard bow, initially as it went out occasionally, I assumed it might be a distant fishing boat but as we drew closer I thought it could be a local fisherman who have a habit of sitting at anchor with no lights and switching on a white head torch at the last minute. 
Approaching within about 100 metres of the light there was a lot of shouting and I thought we might be about to run over a fishing net so I cut the engine and steered in a circle around the light, switched on a spotlight and saw three youths sitting on a jetski, now all yelling in a language I did not recognise and all waving their mobile phone lights and apparently out of fuel. We did pick out what sounded like 'Morocco' several times so assumed that was where they were from.

I immediately got the rest of the crew on deck to assess our options, these guys were in trouble, 12 miles from the Spanish coast, dressed in light tee shirts.
I had heard stories of skippers and yachts getting into trouble for assisting migrants in the Med so we decided to stand off a distance and circled the jetski at 50 metres as we were fearful someone might be desperate enough to try to swim across to our yacht.

In my opinion standing off, out of swimming distance and contacting the nearest coastguard was exactly the right thing to do for a leisure yacht, if one or all had tried to swim over to us I'm not sure of what my response might have been, suddenly it's  'MAYDAY' situation but you can't let them drown, what if there are 50 or 60 of them in a sinking inflatable or in the water? A real dilemma!

We tried to contact the Spanish Coastguard, but got no reply to several transmissions (in English) and eventually decided to make a PAN PAN call which received an immediate response from the Coastguard (in English) then our ships VHF radio failed, so grab the hand held VHF which had been charging for hours but switched itself off after 2 minutes with a flat battery. 
 
We decided to contact Falmouth coastguard by mobile phone and there followed a series of almost comical phone calls where the Spanish Coastguard kept calling "Yacht Sharon" (even after we spelled out 'Seren' several times) linked via Madrid Rescue reminiscent of "The Navy Lark' but eventually 2 1/2 hours later a Spanish rescue launch arrived and collected the three youths and their jetski, the oldest probably 18 and youngest about 12.

We  were over 70 NM from Morocco  and 12NM from Spain and I was surprised a jetski had made it that far from Morocco but when I checked, the Yamaha 3 seat jetski has a max range of about 120 miles, 1800cc engine and 70 litre fuel tank. 
 
It's surprising what comes up over the horizon, we never found out what happened to the youths.



Dear Graham,
Thanks for sharing this story. And I second the congratulations on a successful rescue and outcome. It was rather brilliant to bring the Falmouth CG in to coordinate with the Spanish authorities while you stood by. We've had enough interactions with the Spanish CG to know that effective communication can be rather challenging.

I appreciate that it would have been a different story had the boys decided to swim to you.  Had you thought through what you would do if they did leave the PWC?


Hi All,
Just an fyi: Falmouth CG’s phone number was one I have on speed dial on my phone and sat-phone. There are others, but my casual research indicates they are among the most responsive and competent. Even in waters not covered by their services I would want them to have my l/l and a description of the problem.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick,
Falmouth CG were super to work with when we supported the pandemic fleets crossing the Atlantic.
Daria

Hi Daria, That would have been my guess, but it is nice to have it confirmed. Dick
Dick
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Graham.Harrison - 2 Dec 2021
Hi Dick Stevenson
If you undertake yacht deliveries you often get inaccurate assessments of the serviceability of equipment on board, lights and any electronics are always to be thoroughly checked before setting off because all brokers and most owners just say "yes, everything's working fine"
This was a delivery trip for a yacht we had no real history on as the owner had sadly passed away and we had been assured by relatives that the ships VHF was operational, it was initially but got worse as the trip progressed and had pretty poor transmission and reception possibly due to antenna problems which we did not fix although we did try an emergency antenna with no success.
We were informed the handheld VHF was new so did not pack a back up for the delivery trip, it looked new and we put it on charge as we left Leros in the Aegean and tried it out for a short period only as we contacted Messina Straits traffic control which probably lasted less than a minute but had no reason to try it out for longer periods until the ships VHF failed in an emergency.
We bought a new ICOM handheld in Gibraltar
Lesson learned: - take your own VHF Handheld and charger for every delivery.

Hi Graham,
Delivery captain, eh. My hat is off to you. The thought of taking someone else’s boat on passage would give me the willies. At least one delivery cap’t I know takes his own grab bag on every trip with a pre-loaded gps, handheld radio, EPIRB, inflatable life vest, multitool and some food and water among other items.
My best, Dick

Dick
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Dick - 2 Dec 2021
Graham.Harrison - 2 Dec 2021
Hi Dick Stevenson
If you undertake yacht deliveries you often get inaccurate assessments of the serviceability of equipment on board, lights and any electronics are always to be thoroughly checked before setting off because all brokers and most owners just say "yes, everything's working fine"
This was a delivery trip for a yacht we had no real history on as the owner had sadly passed away and we had been assured by relatives that the ships VHF was operational, it was initially but got worse as the trip progressed and had pretty poor transmission and reception possibly due to antenna problems which we did not fix although we did try an emergency antenna with no success.
We were informed the handheld VHF was new so did not pack a back up for the delivery trip, it looked new and we put it on charge as we left Leros in the Aegean and tried it out for a short period only as we contacted Messina Straits traffic control which probably lasted less than a minute but had no reason to try it out for longer periods until the ships VHF failed in an emergency.
We bought a new ICOM handheld in Gibraltar
Lesson learned: - take your own VHF Handheld and charger for every delivery.

Hi Graham,
Delivery captain, eh. My hat is off to you. The thought of taking someone else’s boat on passage would give me the willies. At least one delivery cap’t I know takes his own grab bag on every trip with a pre-loaded gps, handheld radio, EPIRB, inflatable life vest, multitool and some food and water among other items.
My best, Dick

Hi Graham and all,
I will use your report as a stepping stone to a suggestion:
Antenna problems are common in vhf installations and grow on the boat insidiously, often without anyone noticing in this day and age where cell phones are so ubiquitous: same with AIS. Most everyday vhf transmissions are under 5nm and are possible even with a corroded coax terminal. It is when you want to reach out 25-30nm and beyond (most likely not an everyday call but an emergency) that a little corrosion interferes.
At the beginning of the season, find a boat going in the opposite direction and set up a sked where you talk every 10 minutes or so and record distance apart as shown by AIS. Use the handhold also. Log where the signal gets scratchy and when it drops out for both the vhf and AIS. If there is cell phone contact, it may be that AIS lasts longer than vhf and you can continue to record AIS functioning. (If really energetic, play with different tx power levels to get a sense of the difference they make.)
Now there is a base line for the future and an indication of present functioning. If there is the thought that there might be a problem, repeat with another boat. Remember, the problem may have been the other boat’s problem.
Using the CG for radio checks is largely pointless and has to be a bother for them. It is pointless as their equipment for both rx and tx is so powerful that it would mask problems in your equipment unless they were really egregious: in which case, they would have been noticed already.
My best, Dick Stevenson

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