31 May, 2003 King Edward Point
Rumour would have it that South Georgia is an island of parties, jollies and love but there is a serious side to life at KEP, which includes the support of the Marine Officer and applied fishery research. May the 1st saw the opening of the Tooth fish season and some 19 Fishing vessels all needing inspection before being allowed to fish in a the zone around South Georgia that extends some 200 miles from the coastline. Half-way through the licensing period the weather turned nasty and called a halt to proceedings only to turn KEP into International Rescue for the next 10 days.
It all started on the morning of the 30th April with one long liner called Viking Bay running aground in King Edward cove by the base after dragging an anchor in strong winds.
Viking Bay managed to pull themselves off the shore with a system of ropes in the afternoon but anyone thinking this was the end of the excitement would soon be have been proved wrong. Whilst tucking into a apple crumble and custard pudding the VHF radio crackled into life with an urgent call from a ship called No 1 Moresko saying they had touched bottom and were taking on water. It appeared that Moresko had been blown or drifted up and onto a reef at the entrance to Morraine fjord.
Whilst Pat Lurcock the Marine Officer was trying to gain a fuller picture it transpired another ship called Lyn had run aground on the same reef about ¾ a mile westwards from Moresko.
The news from Moresko was not good with the engine room on Moresko filling up with water, the crew preparing to abandon ship and then jump into life rafts. Marcus Shuttleworth who was the observer onboard and the only one that spoke English managed to calm the crew of Moresko down and then persuaded them to stay put for the night since they weren’t going to sink any more. We would pick them up first thing in the morning when it was light and safe for our small boats. Lyn was fast on the reef but not taking on water and in no immediate danger. With the 1st of May being the start of the Tooth Fish season luckily the Fisheries Patrol ship Sigma was in at the time so come first light our inshore fishing boats Quest, Alert (Twin Engine RIB) and another RIB from Sigma went to evacuate all the crew from Moresko some 41 people in total. Later on that day the captain of Lyn decided he wanted his crew off for safety reasons so off came 38 crew but Captain and officers remained onboard, now the total population of King Edward Point was getting towards the hundred people mark!
Over the next few days several different ships tried repeatedly to tow Lyn off the reef but to no avail. In the end a weld fractured letting water in to the engine room and Lyn too settled on the bottom her engine room and accommodation deck now flooded. With all the Lyn crew now rescued all efforts turned to repatriating the wrecked mariners safely.
A Korean Squid Jigger 101 In Sung arrived 4 days after Moresko had sunk to take the Moresko Crew home however101 did not have enough life raft capacity for its own crew yet alone an extra 40. So after some negotiation they were instructed to sail for Stanley with the Moresko Crew instead of Cape Town, which had been their original destination. They departed said it was unsafe to go to Stanley and made for Cape Town instead!
An ocean-going tug called Typhoon had been sent from the Falklands to take fuel from Lyn and tow her off but they had no small boats, pumps etc so they could only help to take the Lyn crew home. Half the Lyn crew were put on FPVSigma and the other half on Typhoon. Once Typhoon had departed we had permission from Lyn’s captain to remove some freshies and the ships bell for the museum. As a warm up the film Whiskey Galore was put on for a movie and the following day we went out to Moresko and Lyn for an “Environmental Cleanup” of lines, nets and other fishing tackle to try and prevent the equipment from floating off in the storms that occur here. By the end of the ten day period we had rescued 41 crew from Moresko, 43 from Lyn (effectively twice since the captain had the crew back to try and refloat the ship) and one zodiac from Lyn on numerous occasions, everyone was shattered!
To put a human side to it everyone worked hard together, be it out in the boats rescuing or stood by, helping the rescued mariners or just keeping the base going. Howie was out boating practically from dawn to dusk, Doc Sue was kept busy with plenty of minor medical ailments, Frin, Suzi , Rich, John and Andy when not boating were looking after the Korean crew in Larsen house.
To sum things up we were blessed with unusually calm weather after the first night and the luck of having FPV Sigmaalongside at the time, no one was injured but things could of easily conspired against us.
Once the excitement of the rescues had passed our big worry was what would happen to the wrecks. The Government of South Georgia are investigating measures to mitigate the potential environmental impact posed by the wrecks including the possible loss of the vessels’ fuel (light marine gas oil), tens of kilometres of ropes and lines, thousands of plastic bags, thousands of hooks between them and tons of bait.
Late May saw a return to normal work with the science team trying to catch up with 3 weeks worth of plankton trawls, trammel netting other science work. The trammel netting involves Howie, Frin, Suzi, and Rich going out inQuest in the late afternoon, shooting the nets and retrieving them the following morning. The data from the analysis of the catch is fed into a big database that helps with the management of the South Georgia Fisheries.
The last week of May brought a welcome early snowfall and a chance for everyone to get out and about on skis. Skiing lessons started on the nursery slopes behind the old whaling station. With no chair lifts or skidoos to drag you to the top of the slope it’s a hard slog up followed by a quick ski or fall down. After a little bit a practice and plenty of falling over we had all got to grips with snow plough and kick turns, herring boning and cross country skiing.
That’s it from KEP for May!
Hi to Mum Dad, Huw, Nan, Celia and Denzil.
NB: A fuller account of the ships incidents can be found on the South Georgia website.