Sailors assigned to the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Underwood (FFG 36) rescued six Peruvian fishermen drifting in a disabled vessel off the coast of Peru, May 10.
The fishermen were isolated at sea for ten days after developing mechanical problems with their vessel. They were unable to radio for help after their 12-volt batteries died.
The fishermen signaled Underwood as the ship passed by. Underwood Sailors then boarded a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) and approached the vessel.
“When we got there, [we saw] it was this small, broken down fishing boat,” said Gas System Turbine (Mechanical) 3rd Class (SW) Brian Stankowitz. “There was a kid who was about 11 years old and he was using a manual bilge pump because they were taking on a lot of water. They were basically sinking.”
After providing food and water to the fishermen, the Sailors returned to Underwood to recharge the fishermen’s 12-volt batteries so they would not have to rely on the manual bilge pump to keep afloat.
“There was a language barrier for me because I don’t speak Spanish, but when we gave them food and water, I could see the thanks in their eyes,” said Stankowitz. “They ate all the food and drank all the water immediately and they were laughing.”
After resupplying the fishermen, the RHIB was kept in the water on standby to assist as necessary until the Peruvian coast guard arrived.
“We were out there for about five hours and then we came back and did a crew swap so the RHIB could go back out and take care of any needs that might come up,” said Engineman 2nd Class (EXW) Zachary White, who was sent to evaluate the condition of the boat’s outboard motor and assist with repairs if possible. “We swapped in a fresh crew so we could stay by their side until they got help.”
White and Stankowitz expressed how good it felt to be in the RHIB, assisting fellow mariners in a significant way.
“We sometimes forget the big picture of what we do when we deploy,” said White. “We get worn out and we get tired, but when we actually go out and help people that need help and it’s a matter of life or death, it opens your eyes to what we’re doing while we’re out here. It’s a very, very good feeling.”
“I think the biggest thing for me is that it was a great way to start a deployment,” said Stankowitz. “We’re just giving and helping people.”
Underwood is deployed to Central and South America and the Caribbean in support of Southern Seas 2012.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet (COMUSNAVSO/C4F) supports U.S. Southern Command joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.
Naval Today Staff , May 11, 2012; Image: navy