A merchant seaman was evacuated from his ship in an operation involving Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat and a Coastguard helicopter during yesterday's tidal surge.
At 1pm yesterday, the UK Coastguard Operations Centre at Humber were radioed by the captain of the 160m, 22,100tonne bulk carrier HC Jette-Marit informing them that his chief engineer was unwell and had possibly suffered a heart attack. The vessel was approximately four miles east of Sunderland where it was due to anchor before entering the port on Saturday.
As the radio conversation progressed, UK Coastguard were told that the chief engineer, a Ukrainian national, refused to be evacuated from the ship by helicopter and signed a disclaimer confirming his intentions which was sent to the Coastguard and the shipping agent, meaning that the Coastguard was unable to offer further assistance despite urging the man to allow them to assist.
Shortly before 2pm, the situation changed when the captain of the ship radioed UK Coastguard to tell them that the engineer had been persuaded to be evacuated by sea. Tynemouth RNLI all-weather lifeboat was then requested to launch to evacuate him.
The lifeboat, with six volunteer crew members, launched just six minutes after being paged and headed to the HC Jette-Marit. Sea conditions were very bad with strong northerly winds, a tidal surge and a swell between 1 and 5 metres.
Reaching the ship 20 minutes after launching, its captain positioned it to allow the lifeboat coxswain to come to the pilot ladder, where two crew members were to be put on board with a casualty care kit. Getting the crew on board was extremely hazardous in the swell and only made possible by the coxswain's extensive skill and experience.
Once on board, the two crew members assessed the casualty and gave him first aid to stabilise his condition, while the lifeboat stood by a safe distance away.
The sea conditions worsened and it became apparent that it was not going to be possible to safely evacuate the casualty by sea, a situation worsened by the ship's captain's reluctance to reposition the ship to give the lifeboat shelter after a chain securing deck cargo had snapped.
The casualty was persuaded by the RNLI crew members that it was in his best interests to be taken of the ship by air so a Coastguard rescue helicopter was then requested. This left Humberside airport soon after and as it was flying north, the lifeboat volunteers kept the casualty comfortable and prepared him for winching.
The helicopter arrived on scene at 4.18pm and their winchman, a trained paramedic, was lowered to the deck of the HC Jette-Marit. Winchmen and gave further treatment before he was placed on a stretcher and winched into the helicopter.
Owing to the severe seas, the two lifeboat crew members were also winched into the helicopter and taken with the casualty to Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary. The crew members were then returned to Tynemouth lifeboat station by members of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade who had been tasked by UK Coastguard to man the hospital landing site.
In the meantime, the lifeboat was stood down and returned to station after refuelling, arriving at 6pm.
Adrian Don, spokesman for Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat station, said: "This was an unusual situation with the casualty initially refusing any help despite suffering what could have been a fatal condition.
"The casualty was able to walk off the helicopter and we hope he makes a full recovery. His arrival at hospital was only made possible by the coordinated rescue response and in particular the skill, determination and bravery of our volunteer lifeboat crew and the helicopter crew, who worked in very challenging sea and weather conditions."