HMAS Ballarat on her way home after search and rescue mission

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Gary McHugh (author), ABIS Christopher Szumlanski (photographer)

Location(s): Amsterdam Island, Southern Indian Ocean

Topic(s): HMAS Ballarat (F155), Search and Rescue (SAR)

Medical Officer Lieutenant Rebecca Ainsworth, RAN (right), MH-60R Aviation Warfare Officer Lieutenant Christopher Evill, RAN (left), and Able Seaman Medic Renne Simmons, rehearse assembling a casualty stretcher as HMAS Ballarat answers a call to assist a maritime emergency in the Indian Ocean. (photo: ABIS Christopher Szumlanski)
Medical Officer Lieutenant Rebecca Ainsworth, RAN (right), MH-60R Aviation Warfare Officer Lieutenant Christopher Evill, RAN (left), and Able Seaman Medic Renne Simmons, rehearse assembling a casualty stretcher as HMAS Ballarat answers a call to assist a maritime emergency in the Indian Ocean.

The Commanding Officer of HMAS Ballarat has praised the proficiency of his ship’s company after the frigate was ordered to crash sail to reach two participants in a global sailing event whose yachts had been de-masted in the Indian Ocean south of Perth.

Ballarat is now on her way back to Fleet Base West having recovered one of the two race participants, the Irish national Mr Gregor McGuckin from the remote Amsterdam Island in the Southern Indian Ocean. The other participant, Indian Navy Commander Abhilash Tomy, will embark in an Indian Navy Frigate in the next 24-48 hours.

Commander Paul Johnson, whose ship deploys to Operation MANITOU in less than a month, said he initially received notification from Maritime Operations at 0700 on Saturday, September 22 advising him of the situation – three hours later the order was given for Ballarat to prepare to sail.

“On receiving that order I initiated a general recall to have the ship’s company return by 1600 with a view to sailing at 1800,” he said.

“The response from the crew was absolutely outstanding, especially given that Saturday was the first day of our three-week pre-deployment leave period after receiving our Battle Worthiness Certification on Friday.

“Regardless of personal plans, the ship’s company responded to the call and quickly prepared the ship for sailing – a total of 135 personnel returned from leave, including a number of key personnel who returned from the east coast after cancelling holiday plans.”

Ballarat’s Medical Officer, Lieutenant Rebecca Ainsworth, and her medical team ran through a number of possible scenarios they could face should they be required to treat the stricken sailor.

“In preparation for this mission, my team and I reviewed likely scenarios and the expectation of managing someone suffering from hypothermia, malnutrition as well as possible spinal injuries,” LEUT Ainsworth said.

“These conditions would have been particularly challenging to manage at sea due to issues with mobility and ongoing monitoring requirements in a primary care setting. 

“Specifically, with a back injury and possible spinal cord damage, issues such as pain relief would be extremely important as pain is likely to be exacerbated by the sea state and ship motion.  

“There is also the factor of management of fatigue within the medical department as a very unwell patient requires 24-hour care and review.”

CMDR Johnson said given such a short preparation time for sailing, his crew was required to come up with some innovative solutions to problems such as having the stores onboard necessary for such a mission.

“The creativity of the Maritime Logistics department in rapidly sourcing victuals from HMAS Stirling and a number of local supermarkets was very impressive,” he said.

“As was the case of a young Able Seaman who had just boarded a flight when he received the recall notice and then disembarked in order to get back to his ship.”

CMDR Tomy and Irish national Mr McGuckin had been competing in the Golden Globe Race when both yachts rolled in rough seas and lost their masts. CMDR Abhilash, suffered a severe back injury and was unable to leave his bunk, making it very difficult to communicate his serious situation. Mr McGuckin, whose vessel was also de-masted, is uninjured.

The search was coordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in conjunction with Indian and French authorities. The ADF contributed a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon aircraft in addition to Ballarat and their embarked MH60 Romeo Seahawk Helicopter.