March 04, 2009

The Kaselehlie Press

Federated States of Micronesia - In the late afternoon of Friday, February 20 the FSM National Police received an email from the Japanese Coast Guard reporting that a Japanese fishing vessel, the Tokuie Maru was adrift in FSM waters. The vessels captain reported that that they were having unidentified engine problems and requested a rescue from the National Police.

Simion Weitto, Captain of the FSS Independence said that by 7:00 that evening his crew of 13 was steaming west to intercept the ailing fishing boat. On board was Benson Frederick and FSM police officer who, according to Captain Weitto speaks enough Japanese to serve as an interpreter.

They found the drifting vessel on Saturday morning at 9:50 at Latitude 09 degrees 27 minutes north Longitude 157 degrees 58 minutes east, 147 nautical miles from Pohnpei and just a few miles from the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Weitto, who has captained the FSS Independence for over 17 years, said that the weather was rough with seas of six to eight feet and gusts blasting at nearly 30 nautical miles per hour. It was too dangerous to board the Tokuie Maru in those conditions. He steered the Independence as close to the bow of the Japanese vessel as he could and crew members threw out a heave line, a thin rope that is tied to the much larger tow rope and used to haul over the tow line.

Weitto said that rescue operations of this type are always dangerous and are especially so in rough weather like they experienced on Saturday. The tow line snapped twice while the FSS Independence was returning to Pohnpei while towing the Tokuie Maru. Weitto said that whenever a tow line snaps when towing the snap back of the seriously strained rope has enough force to kill a person and to seriously damage equipment on board.

The first time that the tow line snapped was at 11:40 on Saturday night. It took crew members over two hours to make the I-splice in the rope and to get back under way. It snapped again close to the Pohnpei port at 1:30 in the afternoon on Sunday.

Both vessels arrived safely at the Pohnpei port at 7:00 on Sunday evening.

Weitto said that vessels rescued at sea are expected to pay the expense of the rescue.

He said that his crew members reported that the Japanese Vessel was in compliance with all FSM laws including having a vessel monitoring system and a valid fishing license. He was told that there was 7 tons of fish aboard.