U.S. Coast Guard assisted when British couple requested

Portsmouth, Va. – Recent news reports indicate that the U.S. Coast Guard advised the British couple on the sailing vessel Sara, while they drifted for 40 days in the Atlantic Ocean during January and February, that they were too far out to be rescued. That is incorrect.

The Coast Atlantic Area records indicate that on Jan. 15 Stuart Armstrong and Andrea Davison contacted the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) Falmouth, U.K., to report that their rudder was not operating properly but that it was not an emergency and they just wanted to know what their options were, and the weather forecast.

On Jan. 19 RCC Falmouth notified the U.S. Coast Guard’s RCC in Portsmouth, Va., of the vessel’s status.

From Jan. 19 – Feb. 18 the couple communicated with ham radio operator Herb Hehilgenberg in Canada who consistently passed the vessel’s status on to the U.S. Coast Guard. During this period the couple never asked to be rescued.

On Feb. 15 the couple contacted RCC Bermuda and requested help. At that time the vessel was estimated to be about 235 nautical miles south-south east of Bermuda. RCC Bermuda informed the couple that they did not have anyone available to come out that far, but that there was a salvage boat available to assist. The couple declined that assistance due to cost.

On Feb. 18, Hehilgenberg, the ham radio operator, called the U.S. Coast Guard in Portsmouth, Va., and said that the couple was now running out of food and water. In addition, they were exhausted and wanted to abandon their vessel. The U.S. Coast Guard then diverted the oil tanker Indian Point to pick them up via the Automated Merchant Vessel Reporting program. AMVER, sponsored by the United States Coast Guard, is a unique, computer-based, and voluntary global ship reporting system used worldwide by search and rescue authorities to arrange for assistance to persons in distress at sea. With Amver, rescue coordinators can identify participating ships in the area of distress and divert the best-suited ship or ships to respond.

“We will always make all possible attempts to assist distressed mariners,” said Senior Chief Brian Avelsgard of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Command Center in Portsmouth, Va. “To aide rescue agencies, mariners should always maintain a registered 406 EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons).”

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