Mercy dash for Australian patrol ship

The Australian Customs and Fisheries patrol ship Oceanic Viking made a 1800 nautical mile mercy dash from the remote Southern Ocean to the Indian Ocean, in October, to help save the lives of two critically ill men.

An Australian Government Antarctic Division doctor on board the ship performed emergency surgery on one of the men, with the assistance of Customs Officers specially trained as lay surgical assistants. Both men were eventually transferred in a stable condition to a hospital on the island of La Reunion, east of Madagascar, for ongoing assessment and medical care.

The Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, said the Oceanic Viking was diverted from a planned patrol of Australian waters around Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) on October 11. He said the patrol ship diverted to the French-owned Kerguelen Islands to pick up a seriously ill 43-year-old man; a fisherman from a licensed fishing vessel.

‘The man had suffered a heart attack a few days prior and needed urgent transfer to more comprehensive medical facilities in La Reunion,’ Senator Ellison said.

En route to La Reunion the Oceanic Viking then responded to an emergency request for assistance from a bulk carrier, the MV Dynasty, travelling between Brazil and China. The ship reported that it had a 35-year-old crewman in critical condition with a burst appendix.

‘Thanks to a treaty between France and Australia on illegal foreign fishing, our interests were always protected while the Oceanic Viking was undertaking this important medical mission. The safety of life at sea is the prime concern of any mariner and the Australian Government supports this important international convention. The Oceanic Viking will always respond to distress calls while carrying out its patrol duties,’ Senator Ellison said.

The Antarctic Division Polar Medicine Unit has been providing medical support to Australian Customs Fisheries patrols in the HIMI region since 2003. The Oceanic Viking previously undertook a medical evacuation of a seriously ill fisherman in the Southern Ocean in 2004 (Australian Antarctic Magazine 8: 26).