19 Sep 2018

Call for hand-held radios to be mandatory on small boats in PNG

10:25 am on 19 September 2018

The owner of a boat which rescued eight people in Papua New Guinea's Bougainville region says having a hand-held radio on a boat can help save lives.

The 42-ft yacht, Magalut managed to save the lives of eight people on Sunday as their banana boat sank in heavy seas 25 nautical miles east off Nissan Island.

Magalut's owner Andrew Kilvert said the rescue, in difficult sea conditions off the Bougainville atolls, highlighted the need for better maritime safety measures.

Mr Kilvert said that small craft in particular should require radios.

"You check out, you pick up your hand-held radio. With my own money I've set up a system of VHF radio through our Nissan islands, which gives us a coverage of about 500-square nautical miles. So all we need is a hand-held VHF radio which means that when boats get into trouble they're actually able to contact it," said Andrew Kilvert.

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A busy port in Bougainville Photo: Wellington Chocolate Factory

"The other problem that's happened to us as well is that our telephone system doesn't work on the island," he explained.

"So a banana boat can be missing for a week before anyone realises that it's missing. So these are the really basic issues."

As it happened, Sunday's rescue took place after the people on the 23 ft banana boat made contact with Magalut by torch after they suffered engine problems and their craft was floundering in 4 to 5 metre swell.

"Where they were, with the wind and the tide carrying them eats, they were lost, they were dead. This was absolutely a million to one chance... we just happened to intercept their course," Mr Kilvert said.

Magalut performed a dangerous rescue operation, after having hove to, or come to a dead stop in heavy seas.

The banana boat was able to come along side and pass the two young children, aged four and five, on to Magalut before the banana boat's engine died and the two boats became separated in the dark.

The crew then manoeuvred Magalut downwind of the stricken boat and deployed a 100-metre floating rescue rope from the stern.

The remaining six passengers on the banana boat were able to swim to the rope as their boat was swamped and sank - while the Magalut's crew hauled them in.

Being on the open ocean in a banana boat leaves a crew highly vulnerable to powerful currents and winds, Mr Kilvert said.

"With a skipper who didn't have a lot of experience. Big seas, and down to the east there's really strong winds, down to the east of the Solomon Islands that are picking up a big swell. So even though it might feel like light winds when you're in sheltered waters, when you go out you're dealing with a big swell."

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