Bermagui search and rescue exercise pauses to assist boaters in real trouble

HEADING OUT: Marine Rescue vessels Bermagui 30, Narooma 30 and Merimbula 30 heading out to find the "missing men" between Bermagui and Montague Island.
HEADING OUT: Marine Rescue vessels Bermagui 30, Narooma 30 and Merimbula 30 heading out to find the "missing men" between Bermagui and Montague Island.

Marine Rescue volunteers took to the water and the skies as part of a major capability exercise at Bermagui on the weekend.

The exercise on Sunday morning was briefly interrupted by a real-world scenario when a 5.2m, half-cabin fishing boat with three people on board broke down about 1.8km off Bermagui and was drifting south in a strong current.

The Merimbula Marine Rescue vessel MB30 was taken off the search and redirected to assist the broken down vessel, finding it almost 4km south of Bermagui, further than expected due to the current. The vessel was towed back into Bermagui Harbour after which MB30 resumed the exercise activities. 

The Bermagui Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) was designed to test several agencies’ marine search and rescue practices and coordination.

The exercise delivered practical and enhanced skills for police and volunteers involved in marine search and rescue, ahead of the upcoming Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and the summer recreational boating season.

About 65 Marine Rescue NSW volunteers from the Alpine Lakes, Batemans Bay, Bermagui, Eden, Merimbula, Narooma and Tuross units were activated as part of a major joint-agency search and rescue scenario.

The event also involved personnel and rescue assets from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), NSW Police Force Marine Area Command, Surf Life Saving NSW and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

There was search-and-rescue theory lesson on Saturday at the Bermagui Country Club, with tutorials from police, AMSA, Surf Life Saving NSW and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

The group then put the theory into practice on Sunday with a “live” search and rescue exercise.

The search party was looking for three men in a tinnie called “Silver Bullet” that had sunk at a location between Bermagui and Montague Island. The volunteers then had to work out where the men would be based on the currents and weather conditions.

Marine Rescue NSW region operations manager for Monaro Glenn Sullivan said the scenario was that the three people had all gone into the sea after the tinnie had sunk and one of them was a diabetic in need of insulin, which added a sense of urgency.

“There was a high-degree of urgency to find the them and all three targets were located in the designated search area,” he said.

Mr Sullivan said the main coordinating vessel was the police launch the Falcon or WP25 from the water police at Eden, but for the exercise it was fully crewed by Marine Rescue volunteers under the supervision of police to “give maximum benefit to the volunteers”.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter and the new Challenger jet from AMSA were also in the air to assist during the exercise by locating the missing “people” from the air.

AMSA JET: The new Challenger jet from AMSA was in the air to assist during the exercise to help locate the missing “people” between Bermagui and Montague Island.

AMSA JET: The new Challenger jet from AMSA was in the air to assist during the exercise to help locate the missing “people” between Bermagui and Montague Island.

Mr Sullivan said the Challenger jet was in direct communication with the police vessel Falcon and the Marine Rescue volunteers on board.

Back in the coordinations centre at the Marine Rescue Bermagui headquarters at the Bermagui Fishermen’s Wharf, Marine Rescue Narooma volunteer Julia Mayo-Ramsay was in charge and passed with “flying colours”, Mr Sullivan said.

“Everyone was being tested and all aspects of the exercises were run by the volunteers with the police and myself giving support where needed,” Mr Sullivan said.  “The theory on Saturday was about providing a seamless rescue strategy and inter-agency operations for the general public and everyone using our waterways along the coast and inland."