HMAS Launceston's mercy dash

Published on ABBM Nicholas Peters (author), LEUT Andrew Ragless (author), CPOMT Duncan Thomas (photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS Launceston (P94)

Doctor Peter Lovell, left, looks on as the injured merchant seaman is carefully lowered from HMAS Launceston's Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat by the ship's medical emergency team. (photo: CPOMT Duncan Thomas)
Doctor Peter Lovell, left, looks on as the injured merchant seaman is carefully lowered from HMAS Launceston's Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat by the ship's medical emergency team.

Initiative, training and the rapid response by Armidale Class Patrol Boat crew Assail Four has saved the life of a Chinese mariner, critically injured at sea, 80 nautical miles south-east of Christmas Island.

The merchant seaman had suffered a serious fall aboard the vessel MV Peng Hu Wang on New Year’s Day, breaking an ankle and sustaining a life-threatening puncture wound to the chest.

Embarked in HMAS Launceston, Assail Four conducted the high speed mercy dash at the request of the Rescue Coordination Centre Australia. At the crew’s initiative, the patrol boat transferred a specialist medical officer from a nearby Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Vessel.

Less than two hours later Launceston received the casualty, together with an English-speaking Chinese chaperone. Launceston’s Primary Health Care Provider, Petty Officer Naval Police Coxswain Luke Miller took charge of the evolution.

“I was surprised to see the casualty was strapped to an unhinged door and the crew of the Peng Hu Wang were preparing to lower him over the side in a cargo net by crane,” he said.

“We were able to safely receive him into Launceston’s boat despite the rough sea conditions.”

HMAS Launceston's Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat manoeuvres on the starboard side of the MV Peng Hu Wang in readiness to receive the injured merchant seaman.

HMAS Launceston's Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat manoeuvres on the starboard side of the MV Peng Hu Wang in readiness to receive the injured merchant seaman.

The patient was transferred to a stretcher and taken to the wardroom where the doctor and the ship’s medical emergency team, including Leading Seaman Maritime Logistics-Chef Stephen Yarroll and Able Seaman Maritime Logistics - Chef Benjamin Coulter, immediately went to work, dressing the wound, placing the patient on saline and generally stabilising his condition.

“The patient was in a bad way, with very low blood pressure, a rapid heart rate and in a great deal of pain. The wound in his chest was deep and ‘wheezing’ with each shallow breath,” Petty Officer Miller said.

“We practise for these kinds of medical emergencies all the time, but I was amazed at how the training really kicked in. We were calm and at no point did I second guess what we were supposed to do,” he said.

On arrival back at Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island, HMAS Launceston was met by paramedics on a Pusher Barge who took the casualty to the Christmas Island Medical Centre for further treatment.

Dr Peter Lovell, the medical officer who embarked in Launceston said he felt part of a well trained team.

“I was impressed by the skill of the coxswain, Seaman Boatswains Mate James Fry, in receiving the patient and the calm and proficient manner displayed by ship’s medical emergency team who proved to be excellent assistants.”

The doctor later stated that if it wasn't for the actions of Launceston and the medical teams, the merchant seaman would have surely died.

Commanding Officer of Assail Four, Lieutenant Commander Mark Graichen said the crew’s initiative and enthusiasm may have saved the mariner’s life.

“I think the crew are quietly proud of their efforts. A merchant sailor, who earns his living on the brine, and thus a brother, can now return to his wife and children as a result of their significant efforts.”

Imagery is available on the Australian Defence Image Library at http://images.defence.gov.au/S20150039.