Miraculous rescue in the Pacific highlights regional search and rescue collaboration

24 July 2023

Maritime NZ’s Rescue Coordination Centre (RCCNZ) played a key role in ensuring two Tuvaluan fishermen were able to get home safely after becoming lost earlier this month. The two men were rescued following a collaborative coordinated effort by agencies from across the Pacific.

The fishermen, who were on-board a 5.8 metre aluminium vessel, went missing on Saturday 1 July. They did not take any emergency location equipment out with them. Due to the inability to be able to get a read on where they may have drifted, there was a significant search area.

After three days adrift, and multiple searchers working from the sea and air, the MV Nivaga III, a local vessel, found the pair at 9 PM on Tuesday 4 July.

The Fijian Rescue Coordination Centre asked RCCNZ’s assistance with the search after the pair had been missing for two days.

Justin Allan, General Manager RCCNZ and Safety Systems says this rescue wasn’t just finding a needle in a haystack. The coordinating agencies had to start with finding the haystack first.

“The identified search area was approximately 5500 nautical miles. For a comparison, Lake Taupo has a perimeter of 104 nautical miles,” he says.
This successful rescue was based on regional cooperation between the Fijian Rescue Coordination Centre, Tuvalu search and rescue coordinators and response assets, and RCCNZ. The New Zealand Defence Force also sent its new P8A to assist with the search.

Recently RCCNZ has been undertaking work to support the development of their Fijian counterparts’ search and rescue capability. This involved a two-week training course, with a focus on coordination search efforts, assessing search areas and tasking assets such as vessels of opportunity and aircraft.

“The vessel was eventually found right in the middle of the search area, which highlighted the planning and coordination capability of the Fijian MRCC,” Justin Allan says.

The RCCNZ also wants to acknowledge the support of the NZDF who carried out the first operational deployment of the P8A Poseidon in support of this search.

“It is reassuring knowing NZDF has an asset like the P8A that we can quickly call upon to assist with searches such as this,” Justin Allan says.

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