By SKSN Jeremy Henthorne
This is the first in a three part series from SN Henthorne detailing his experiences during the Somali rescue operation last June.
It was a warm Sunday morning aboard USS Russell operating in the Gulf of Aden. Sundays are holiday routine for the sailors, a day where outside of watch standing, their time is their own. Some use this day to catch up on rest they may have lost through the week, others use this time to relax and play games, go to church, study for an upcoming exam, listen to music, or just do nothing. This day was a special Sunday for the sailors aboard Russell, because a ‘steel beach picnic’ had been scheduled. Steel beach picnics are something the crew does to increase moral by having a BBQ on the flight deck. It was around lunch time when the officer of the deck got on the loudspeaker. “Good afternoon, Russell, this is the junior officer of the deck with an announcement. We just received word of a vessel in need of help. Russell has been tasked with assisting the vessel so we will be speeding to the location given. When we get closer we will set an extra watch to have more eyes to help find the vessel in distress.”
I had just woken up and was eating my brunch when I heard the announcement. The first thing that went through my mind was that I really didn’t want to spend my Sunday, my only day of rest, topside looking for a fishing vessel. The more I thought about it the more I thought of our location and the chance this could be a set up. So, I finished up my brunch and went to get my hat from my rack.
As I walked through the passage way on my way to my berthing everyone was talking about the possibility this could be a set up. I grabbed my hat and headed to my office. They were still setting up for the steel beach picnic when the officer of the deck came on the loudspeaker again. “Afternoon Russell, this is the officer of the deck again, due to this afternoon’s evolution we will not be having a steel beach picnic.” Now everyone was even more irritated because we won’t have a steel beach, nor do we get the rest of our Sunday off. The next thing was to set the extra watches to help with spotting the vessel. I put my ball cap on and headed out to the front of the ship, also known as the forecastle. When I get up there I grab a head set and get in contact with the pilot house. “Bridge, forecastle.”
"Bridge” they responded.
“Forecastle online” I reported. It was a pretty hot day out and the sun was shining bright with no clouds in the sky. A slight smell of sea water filled the air as we moved at a fast pace to get to the scene. “See anything?” I ask my partner.
“Nothing,” he replies as he’s looking off the starboard side of the forecastle.
Finally we see a faint smoke flare in the distance. I report it to the bridge. The closer we get the more evident that it is exactly what we were looking for. I reported a small orange lifeboat that was dropped off by the aircraft that had originally spotted the vessel in distress. There were three or four dye markers in the water to help us find the vessel incase the smoke flare goes out. We slow down so we can better assess the scene as we approach the vessel off to our port beam about half of a mile out. We come to a dead stop and lower our two small boats known as RHIB’s. Our team of men trained to board other vessels first stop at the life raft in the water, and then approach the disabled vessel with caution.
Go to part 2.
22 July 2008
By SKSN Jeremy Henthorne