Rescue in the South Pacific

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Can a cruise ship make a dramatic rescue at sea? Will the passengers become involved?

Alan and I had a chance to find out when Seabourn Odyssey, our home for the last 12 days, rescued three Western Samoan fishermen between Fiji and Pago Pago, American Samoa. This time, Alan tells the story.

Men in a fishing boat in the South Pacific
Fishermen adrift at sea. Photo courtesy Suzanne Arthur

It’s late afternoon in The Club on Seabourn Odyssey. Donna and I are settling into our chairs to enjoy a pre-dinner glass of wine and listen to the guitar stylings of Gary T’to.

The ship cruises along—the background noise of engines and other ship sounds telling us all is well. We’re looking forward to watching another beautiful Pacific sunset before heading to dinner and then onto the show in the theater.

Without warning, the ship’s sounds change—the engines run quiet, Odyssey slows down. Donna and I look at each other and our thoughts are the same, “Uh oh, what’s happening? Is the ship broken? Are we drifting?”

It’s obvious that something is wrong, but we’re confident that the captain and crew will fix whatever is amiss. Then, we hear the familiar chime chime indicating an announcement is coming.

Captain Mark Dexter’s message is short, “You may have noticed that I’ve slowed the ship’s speed. We have spotted a small boat up ahead. Someone on the boat appears to be waving at us. We are a long ways from the nearest land. I’m sending crew to check out the situation.”

Immediately many of the passengers, myself included, forget about the wine and entertainment to rush to the outside deck on the starboard side leaving Gary T’to playing to a nearly empty room. Outside, we discover a very small boat bobbing in the water. From my estimation it appears to be about 22 feet in length. The speculation begins:

A woman standing next to me asks, “Could these be pirates? Is this an ambush?”

A man replies, “No, I heard that the boat has engine trouble.”

“Someone told me that they ran out of gas,” responds a third passenger.

rescue boat in the water
Seabourn Odyssey to the rescue. Photo courtesy Suzanne Arthur

The Odyssey slows further, then stops, with the mystery boat about 100 yards to the side. A skiff with three crew members on board is lowered into the water to check out the situation.

I can clearly see three men in the mystery boat, all standing and watching as the Odyssey skiff pulls closer. For the next thirty minutes or so we watch as the skiff stays close to the drifting boat yet keeps a safe distance. I can tell there is radio communication going on but will not know the exact nature of the conversation until later on.

After approximately thirty minutes, the three men appear to be packing some items into a small personal bag, the skiff pulls along side and they step into it, reluctantly abandoning their boat, probably the most important possession that they own. Later, we find out this was likely their first step from a watery grave into a new life.

Fishermen step from disabled boat into a rescue boat.
Fishermen prepare to abandon their boat. Photo courtesy Seabourn Odyssey

The  skiff, now with six men, heads back to the cruise ship in the waning light.

Of course the passengers could not see or talk to the three men and were limited to information coming from crew members. It wasn’t until later that we learned just how dramatic the situation was.

The three Western Samoans were fishing when their boat ran out of fuel. Adrift for 18 days, the men existed on raw fish and rain water.

Odyssey was the first shipped that had passed close to them. Another hour and we would have been sailing past in darkness, perhaps unaware of their plight.

That evening at the conclusion of the show, Cruise Director, Nick Hale, announced that the men were doing fine after being examined by the ship’s doctor. They had showered and put on fresh clothes before enjoying a meal of chicken and rice.

And the best part of all—they had been allowed to contact family members. The same family members who had been preparing funeral services, since the men had been declared lost at sea over a week ago.

But my story doesn’t end here. Passengers spontaneously began a monetary collection for the rescued fishermen. We all rushed from the theater back to our rooms to open safes and retrieve cash.

Back in the theater, we placed the cash into ice buckets from our staterooms that were passed around to collect donations, as this was a passenger initiated effort. Within a matter of minutes, over $2,000.00 had been collected.

three rescued fishermen
Three happy fishermen with Cruise Director, Nick Hale. Photo courtesy Seabourn Odyssey

When we docked the next morning in Pago Pago, Donna and I chatted with a ship’s officer as we departed the Odyssey for a cruise excursion. He told us that during a briefing with officers of the ship and immigration authorities, the three men had each been presented with $800 from the monies collected by the passengers. The officer speaking to us simply said: “It was a VERY emotional event for all present.”

Can a cruise ship make a dramatic rescue at sea? Seabourn Odyssey did.

Will the passengers become involved? Donna and I witnessed a heartwarming display of generosity.

We’re proud of Seabourn Odyssey and our fellow cruisers.

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