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Boating first responders feature in 2021 Australian Search and Rescue Awards

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) have congratulated the recipients of this year’s National Search and Rescue Council’s (NATSAR) Australian Search and Rescue Awards.

The awards are presented by the NATSAR Council in recognition of outstanding contribution to search and rescue within the Australian region.

AMSA Executive Director Response, Mr Mark Morrow, said it was a great honour to be able to recognise the brave actions of the recipients.

“The actions of these recipients cannot be understated,” Mr Morrow said.

“They have put themselves in harm’s way to save lives and brought the families of those who were tragically lost some peace; all the while displaying incredible bravery in the process.

“This year there were three categories for the awards: Professional, Non-Professional and Long-Standing Contribution to Search and Rescue.

“In the Professional Category, the NSW Police Dive Unit displayed immense courage in a physically demanding operation they carried out in a remote canyon.

“The winners of the Non-Professional Award category were a father son duo, Andrew and Samuel Coronis; who saved the lives of a man, woman and their dog near Moreton Bay.

“The Long-Standing Contribution Award saw Volunteer Marine Rescue Southport be recognised for over five decades of continuous services; including 2,500,000 hours of service and 80,000 lives assisted across an incredible 35,000 rescue activations.

“We also saw some amazing stories being recognised as commendations for each award. Being able to recognise such incredible work, passion and dedication to helping others is a privilege that AMSA is proud to be part of.

“These commendable acts are at the heart of our values as Australians, and I am proud to be able to congratulate the recipients on receiving these significant awards.

“Thank you for your service to our community.”

The winners of the 2021 Australian Search and Rescue awards are:

Professional Search and Rescue Award 2021

  • Winners: NSW Police Dive Unit Senior Sergeant Raymond Busby, Sergeant Josh Lisle, Sergeant Steven Wye, Senior Constable Tim Boardman, Senior Constable Ryan Good.
  • Commendation: NSW Police Marine Area Command Sergeant Tony Hogg, Senior Constable Matthew Gray, Senior Constable Nicholas Leach.
Non-Professional Search and Rescue Award 2021
  • Winners: Andrew Peter Coronis and Samuel Michael Coronis.
  • Commendation: Captain Rohit Upadhyay, Chief Officer Santosh Kumar and the crew of the ship Godam.
Long-standing Contribution to Search and Rescue Award 2021
  • Winners: Southport Volunteer Marine Rescue.
  • Commendation: Mr Francis Egan.

Professional Search and Rescue Commendation

Recipients: NSW Police Marine Area Command Sergeant Tony Hogg, Senior Constable Matthew Gray, Senior Constable Nicholas Leach

On Monday 9 November 2020 the NSW Marine Area Command received a Mayday Relay distress call for an 11.5m yacht Solar Coaster with three people on board and in distress 320 nautical miles north-east of Sydney. The yacht was making slow progress west towards the Australian mainland after being de-masted during the night.

It was under electric motor power by a petrol generator, with the progress of the yacht initially monitored by NSW Water Police. The main engine was underpowered to deal with ocean swells and current and was making very slow progress. Monitoring of the crew and supplies was ongoing throughout the night at the Marine Area Command.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) Challenger Rescue jet then conducted a fuel and supply drop to the stricken vessel, including a Satellite phone to establish better communications.

Monitoring of the yacht was continued on its voyage for another 48 hours by Marine Area Command and contact maintained to check the welfare of the crew. On Wednesday 11 November, the yacht had made minimal headway covering only 40 nautical miles in 48 hours, fatigue and health of the crew was failing with only 3 days water and food remaining. It was very evident that the yacht and crew would not make mainland Australia without outside assistance.

As such, officers from the Marine Area Command stepped in to conduct, what is considered to be, one of the longest non-stop tows conducted by Water Police. The officers from the Marine Area Command – Port Stephens Sergeant Hogg, Senior Constable Gray and Senior Constable Leach – conducted this operation in extreme conditions and saved the lives of three men. The crew covered a distance of over 400 nautical miles in sea conditions up to 5 metres and winds of over 40 knots to conduct the operation and bring the men and yacht safely to shore. Fatigue on board the Police launch for the 54-hour operation was a major issue however, was extremely well managed by Sergeant Hogg on minimal or no rest.

All three crew performed their duties as police officers and mariners with extreme professionalism and courage under adverse ocean conditions and I consider to be a great example of “Outstanding Contribution to Search and Rescue” in Australia.

Long-standing contribution to Search and Rescue Award

Recipient: Southport Volunteer Marine Rescue

Volunteer Marine Rescue Southport has been in operation since the late 1960s, throughout this time its members have continuously provided maritime search and rescue services to those operating vessels in the waters of the Gold Coast region.

The current VMR Southport Unit operates under a service agreement with the Queensland Government’s Fire and Emergency Department that requires the unit to undertake a broad range of SAR activities including responding if a surface vessel has requested assistance, transmitted a distress signal, is apparently in distress, is reported to be overdue, is unable to make a safe haven or is sinking or has sunk.

It is estimated that in the 50+ years that Southport VMR has been in operation there have been: in excess of 35,000 rescue activations, 2,500,000 volunteer hours contributed, over 80,00 persons returned to safety, 1.8 million litres of fuel used in the 28 rescue vessels that have been part of the fleet over the half-century; and tens of millions of dollars of property saved from the perils of the ocean.

In order for Southport VMR to achieve its high level of SAR support for those operating their vessels in the Gold Coat waters, they have a 24/7 radio operator and 6 crews, consisting of 12-14 individuals who operate a 24 hour shift over each weekend, including public holidays.

Southport VMR crews include a fully qualified Queensland ambulance service first responder. These professional qualifications provide the ability to stabilise individuals prior to the arrival of more qualified personnel. The fact that there are multiple volunteers qualified in this role demonstrates the professionalism of the VMR Southport crews.

For the past 50 years VMR Southport has ‘walked the talk’ regarding saving and assisting lives and property at sea and providing personnel and equipment in order to carry out search and rescue operations at sea and on the Gold Coast waterways.

Long-standing contribution to Search and Rescue Commendation

Recipient: Francis Egan

Mr Francis “Frank” Egan has been recognised for the Long-Standing Contribution to Search and Rescue Commendation based on his 54 years of dedicated service to the volunteer marine search and rescue sector in Victoria. Frank was a founding member of the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard and has served in many roles at various flotillas in Victoria.

Unfortunately, the record keeping systems have only provided electronic records back to the early 90’s, but available records indicate Frank has achieved over 5,000 sea hours specifically related to marine search and rescue. In addition to this, Frank has not only dedicated the last 54 years of service to helping the boating community, but he has also been instrumental in training thousands of marine search and rescue volunteers in Victoria.

There is no specific incident that makes Frank eligible for this award, rather, it is the countless and selfless years of service dedicated to marine search and rescue. There is no doubt Frank is responsible for saving hundreds of lives at sea during this time, while also having direct involvement in returning deceased who lost their lives at sea to their families following extended on-water searches.