15 Oct 2008

Fiji man rescues yachties off coast of Viti Levu

11:14 am on 15 October 2008

In Fiji a trained rescue diver and his family battled heavy swells, high seas and sharks to rescue three sailors stranded on a reef between Beqa and Vatulele Islands about ten kilometres south of the main island of Viti Levu.

A New Zealander and two Australians, Southland, New Zealand, Regional Council member Ali Timms and Australians, Cameron Slagle, and Elizabeth Schoch were sailing on a ten metre ketch which ran into rough weather, when the engine failed late at night.

After trying to steer the yacht through a treacherous passage between the two islands, the yacht struck a reef and began sinking in 5m swells.

The three abandoned ship,two climbing into an inflatable dinghy, which had lost its emergency supplies, with the other clinging to the side, in shark infested waters.

A mayday call was relayed to a cruising catamaran captained by Maurice Conti and family berthed at Vatulele for the night.

After battling the high seas for just over two hours, the catamaran reached the reef, and Mr Conti then swam to the reef to bring the three back to the boat.

The New Zealand High Commission in Suva says it will recommend Californian native Captain Maurice Conti for the country's highest civilian bravery award.