Ship captain recalls dramatic Platino rescue effort

By Jane Nixon

Battered yacht, Platino, is approached by container ship Southern Lily. Photo / Supplied
Battered yacht, Platino, is approached by container ship Southern Lily. Photo / Supplied

The captain of the ship that rescued three people trapped on the damaged yacht Platino on Monday has spoken out about the dramatic moments which unfolded during the intensive recovery effort.

Shashi Prakash, 40, was part of a 22-crew operation as the Southern Lily diverted it's course 175 nautical miles to reach the yacht and it's three surviving members, Ross McKee and vessel owners Brent and Victoria McKeogh.

Nick Saull, an Auckland-based crew member, was fatally injured during the ordeal but his body remains on the yacht. Another, yet-to-be-identified crew member was swept away and his body and not been recovered.

Southern Lily rescue crew from the stricken yacht Platino. Photo / via Facebook
Southern Lily rescue crew from the stricken yacht Platino. Photo / via Facebook

It was 10pm on Monday night when Mr Prakash received the mayday call from Maritime New Zealand. The Platino had already been in distress for 24 hours but it was going to be another long 12 hours before it would be reached as harsh weather conditions continued to prolong the already dire situation.

After receiving the go-ahead from the ship's parent company - Anglo Eastern Group, the Southern Lily headed towards the stricken vessel, finally reaching it at 10.45am on Tuesday. Both vessels were by now 550km north of New Zealand.

"I received a message from Airforce Orion there were three survivors and one deceased. We were all communicating by VHF radio and decided we could only safely rescue the survivors. It was too dangerous to get the deceased off the yacht based on the weather conditions," Mr Prakash said.

Southern Lily rescue crew from the stricken yacht Platino. Photo / via Facebook
Southern Lily rescue crew from the stricken yacht Platino. Photo / via Facebook

Captain of the ship for the past six years and never having performed a rescue operation, he said all 22 crew members were vital to the effort.

"This was my first experience and certainly not a one person job, we needed everyone. I was feeling confident - there was no point in panicking," he said.

Southern Lily rescue crew from the stricken yacht Platino. Photo / via Facebook
Southern Lily rescue crew from the stricken yacht Platino. Photo / via Facebook

The 145m container vessel began approaching the 20m yacht as Airforce Orion monitored the process.

"We started approaching and reached the Platino, then about 50m from the starboard side we fired line-throwing apparatus towards the Platino. One of the survivors picked up the line and then we used a pilot ladder from the side of the vessel.

"We tied up the yacht and brought it close to the pilot ladder. Weather conditions were very rough - 32-35 knots and a 3m swell."

Mr Prakesh said by about 2.15pm the survivors, were all safely on board.

"They started thanking all the crew and hugging them. They were very happy to have a second chance at life," he said.

The survivors were then taken to the ship's onboard hospital for assessment and given refreshments as they embarked on the long journey back to New Zealand shores. It was not until 1am Thursday morning that they arrived to an emotional family welcome.

"It was a very critical operation," Mr Prakash said. "Bringing the boat alongside the ship was the most difficult part. I was very aware, if you misjudge anything, risks are involved."
He said New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Centre had said the recovery effort was "extraordinary, given the weather conditions".

Stricken yacht Platino is battered by heavy seas. Photo / Supplied
Stricken yacht Platino is battered by heavy seas. Photo / Supplied

India is home to Mr Prakash who lives in Patna with his wife and one son. It's been four months since he has been home - with four month on, four month off shifts he is looking forward to seeing his family again, he said.

Meanwhile, it could be two days until the body of a yachtsman killed in rough seas on Monday is recovered from an abandoned boat.

Auckland crew member Nick Saull, died after he was apparently struck by rigging on the yacht Platino as it was en route to Fiji.

His body remained on the damaged yacht after three other crew members, Ross McKee and vessel owners Brent and Victoria McKeogh, made it onboard container ship Southern Lily around 3pm yesterday.

Nick Saull and Jan Saull on their wedding day. Photo / Supplied
Nick Saull and Jan Saull on their wedding day. Photo / Supplied

Police today said they were acting on behalf of the Coroner to recover Mr Saull's body. Auckland City district manager operations support, Inspector Vaughn Graham, said a maritime officer was on board a tug boat which left Whangarei late Tuesday night to recover the body.

"We are using coordinates from an emergency beacon on the yacht which will monitor the location of Platino. Weather dependent, we could reach Platino by Saturday and have the yacht and body of the person on board back in New Zealand early next week."

Meanwhile, Mrs McKeogh released a statement on behalf of the group, thanking their rescuers. She described the event as a "terrible tragedy of nature vs man", as well as requesting privacy for the families of the deceased and surviving crew.

Mrs McKeogh especially thanked the "amazing"captain and crew of the Southern Lily as well as New Zealand Search and Rescue and Airforce Orion.

Battered yacht, Platino, is approached by container ship Southern Lily. Photo / Supplied
Battered yacht, Platino, is approached by container ship Southern Lily. Photo / Supplied

Photos have also emerged of the dramatic rescue effort via the captain of the Southern Lily, Shashi Prakash.

They show the yacht's stricken crew being plucked to safety in rough seas as well as pictures of the Southern Lily's crew onboard the ship with surviving members of the Platino.

- NZ Herald

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