A young Australian athlete rescued from the Pacific Ocean by a cruise ship this morning has described the frightening 14 hours he spent tied to the hull of his boat.
Tom Mahuta Robinson, 24, from Brisbane sent out a distress signal shortly before 9pm last night, which was received by Noumea Marine Rescue Coordination Centre.
Auckland-based cruise ship the Pacific Explorer was first on the scene, responding to the Mayday signal.
In an exclusive interview with Rod Pascoe from Business Desk, who is a passenger on the ship, Robinson said a rogue wave came out of nowhere and flipped the boat.
“I was just sitting there inside the boat contemplating dinner and a millisecond later it was upside down”.
Robinson instantly leapt into action, swimming out of the flooded cabin and climbing onto the hull of the boat before activating his EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and sending out a distress signal.
He had a radio, three different EPIRBs, a life jacket and a life raft on board.
“With the state I was in, the best option for me was to sit on top of the hull while it was overturned and hold that EPIRB,” he said.
Robinson said he clung onto the boat for around 14 hours.
“I had a line around my waist tied onto the boat that really helped me because waves were constantly breaking over the boat. I was holding on for dear life,” he said.
He said the worst thing was the cold, which left him chattering his teeth all night.
Despite the circumstances, Robinson said he was surprisingly calm and collected and had the utmost faith that help would arrive.
“You can’t let any doubts creep in because then that just becomes a really bad headspace to be in,” he said.
Surviving overnight on the hull of his 24-foot rowing boat Maimar, Robinson was picked up safely this morning.
“This morning, after first light, I saw the cruise ship approaching and I knew I was saved,” he said.
The French Navy in New Caledonia also provided assistance and aerial search for the vessel in distress.
A spokesperson for cruise operator Carnival Australia said the ship diverted north of its course from New Caledonia to Vanuatu, and the rower was rescued from his upturned vessel just before 7am.
Cruise guest Jason Ballantyne said it was “quite surreal seeing someone rescued so far out to sea”.
The rower was found on the upturned hull of the ship, with little clothing and his locator beacon.
Plucked from the sea, Robinson is now in good spirits and safely aboard the Explorer.
In a statement issued via Carnival Australia, the rower thanked the crew who rescued him.
“I was treated with the utmost courtesy and kindness by the medical staff. Many, many thanks to P&O for everything they have done for me,” he said.
Less than six hours after the near-death experience, Robinson was pictured smiling with the crew of the cruise vessel.
The cruise line praised the rescue work of the captain and his crew.
“We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our crew, led by Captain Alan Nixon, for their efforts to once again rescue a fellow mariner in distress, as well as our guests on board for their understanding,” said a spokesperson for Carnival Australia.
Pacific Explorer is currently on a nine-day round-trip voyage from Auckland, carrying 2000 guests, and has now resumed sailing to Auckland.
Cruise guests were relieved to hear the sailor was safe. However many wanted to know if there would be compensation, having missed two ports of calls following the drama.
The endurance rower was on a mission to be the youngest person to row solo across the Pacific.
He was on the final leg of his year-long adventure to row from South America, back home to Brisbane. The young Australian set off from Lima, Peru, in July 2022 and had recently called into Luganville, on Vanuatu, after a 70-day stint at sea.
Second rescue by cruise in as many weeks
This was the second distress call attended by the Auckland-based P&O vessel in as many weeks. It came to the aid of a New Zealand sailboat on September 25 en route to Fiji.
The cruise ship helped rescue two of the crew of immobilised sailboat the Second Life, with assistance from the Fijian Navy. Kiwi skipper 73-year-old Clive Nothling died of his injuries.