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HMS Mersey rescues sailor from yacht blaze

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The alertness and keen eye of a sailor on the bridge of HMS Mersey helped save the life of a Dutch yachtsman after fire ravaged his boat off the Norfolk coast this week.

The Dutchman was spotted on a partially-inflated and unlit life raft a good two miles (3km) from the wreck of his yacht off the coast of Great Yarmouth and was plucked from the middle of the North Sea by sailors from HMS Mersey.

Midshipman Phillip Fordham spotted the floating raft as he scanned the North Sea using night-vision goggles. The junior officer saw a glint in the distance and the fishery protection ship’s two sea boats were immediately sent out with first aiders aboard.

They found the raft, rescued the Dutchman, gave him blankets and first aid and brought him back to the Portsmouth-based ship, where he was found to be cold and in a state of shock, but otherwise unhurt.

Mersey had been carrying out a routine fishery patrol off Great Yarmouth when she picked up a frantic mayday call from the yacht as night fell on the North Sea:

Information was limited - the only known facts were that the vessel was on fire and that it was possibly in the area,” said Lieutenant Chris Humphreys.

The warship and other vessels immediately began a search of the North Sea. Mersey’s firefighters and first aid team prepared to deal with the blaze and any casualties, but the ship’s company became increasingly concerned for the yacht’s fate when nothing more was heard from her.

What was left of the boat was found around 30 miles (48km) off the coast - and the sight was alarming:

The scale of the blaze was clear - flames rose metres in the air and explosions were visible from a number of miles away,” said Lieutenant Humphreys.

Once on the scene, it was clear that the yacht had been destroyed. Flaming wreckage remained on the surface, but the focus for the ship turned to searching for survivors.

One of HMS Mersey's sea boats is launched to aid a Dutch yachtsman off the coast of Great Yarmouth whose yacht was destroyed by fire
One of HMS Mersey's sea boats is launched to aid a Dutch yachtsman off the coast of Great Yarmouth whose yacht was destroyed by fire [Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

When the sole crewman was found and brought back to HMS Mersey, he told the crew that he’d been sailing from Lowestoft to his native Netherlands when the fire took hold and he was forced to abandon his yacht.

He was subsequently winched up by a Coastguard helicopter and flown to hospital in Great Yarmouth for further assessment by medical staff.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Anderson, Mersey’s Commanding Officer, said:

I’m immensely proud of how my ship’s company responded to this distress call in challenging conditions and pleased that we were able to rescue the casualty and render first aid.

The yachtsman was in a perilous situation - and understandably in a state of shock - but should make a full recovery.

HMS Mersey is one of three ships which make up the Royal Navy’s Fishery Protection Squadron. The squadron works every day around British waters to enforce UK and EU fisheries law.

The three UK-based ships contribute 365-days-a-year to the policing of UK waters, delivering a key part of Britain’s maritime security.