Written by Seaman Frank Iannazzo-Simmons and Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Shinn, Coast Guard Cutter Maui public affairs.
While operating in the northern waters of the Gulf, a small vessel capsized in a remote area leaving five Iranian mariners stranded with no one to rescue them. This was the scenario these men faced prior to their chance discovery by the crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maui.
Rescue did not come to their aid until this 110-foot Coast Guard cutter happened to come across the mariners whose lives were saved by the quick-thinking Coast Guard crew. The crew, who had trained intensely for such a situation, swiftly moved into action in the early morning hours of Oct. 11, while assigned to Combined Task Force 152.
As the sun rose over the horizon, Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Sweetman spotted a faint orange object floating in the distance. Once Sweetman reported the object, Maui’s crew altered course to investigate. As Maui approached the object, Sweetman was able to identify a man waving an orange flag.
“I waited a few seconds after realizing it was a man waving a flag,” said Sweetman. “I had to be positive on what I was seeing before passing the information to the bridge.”
Shortly after the bridge team was notified of the sighting, an announcement was heard around the ship. The crew of Maui stepped into action relying on everything they had learned to this point in their careers.
“It seemed like a blur, we knew what we had to do and without hesitation our training kicked in as if it was instinct,” said Seaman CJ Garza.
As Maui navigated closer to the person in the water, Sweetman was able to identify four more mariners lying in the raft. The crew rescued the five Iranian mariners from the life raft within minutes after they arrived on scene.
One of the survivors informed the Maui on-scene leader that their Iranian dhow had capsized and they had been adrift.
With the five Iranian mariners safely aboard, the crew’s focus shifted to providing medical treatment. Once all the survivors were provided initial first aid they were given food, water, blankets and clothing.
“I am very proud of my crew for the judgment they used and actions they took throughout the situation,” said Lt. Earl Potter, commanding officer of Maui. “I think we were extremely fortunate to find these five men. They were all visibly weakened and suffering from extreme exposure when we got them aboard. I don’t know how much longer they would have lasted.”
Commander, Task Force 55 made initial arrangements for the mariners to be transferred to the Iranian Coast Guard ship Naji 7. That evening Maui contacted the Naji 7 to work out the details of the transfer of the mariners.
“It was quite a day, including working with the Iranians to conduct a nighttime small-boat transfer,” said Potter. “This case clearly demonstrates how flexible the Coast Guard is and another way we add value in this region.”
“From the moment we arrived to the moment we transferred them to the Iranian coast guard vessel, the five mariners expressed their gratitude and relief that we were able to help them,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Delacruz.
“While I did spot the raft, it took each and every one of us working as a team to recover and provide treatment to ensure that the stranded mariners would survive the situation they were in,” said Sweetman.
The Bahrain-based cutter and crew are currently assigned to Patrol Forces Southwest Asia and actively participate with CTF-152.
CTF-152 is one of three task forces operating under Combined Maritime Forces. The partnership with the task force defines the service in being nationally deployed and globally connected bringing military expertise and response capability anywhere America’s maritime interests extend. In the case of the rescue of these five Iranians, the maritime interests extended to saving lives at sea.