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Race against death: chief officer tells of battle to save stricken seafarers

Race against death: chief officer tells of battle to save stricken seafarers
Paul Peachey 4 November 2022

A chief officer has told how he leapt from his tanker to save two shipwrecked seafarers in a “race against death” in the cold waters of China’s Yellow Sea.

Despite temperatures of -10C, Xu Bo dived into the sea swam to a water-filled life raft to help two men who had escaped their sinking cargo ship.

“Without any hesitation, I jumped into the sea and swam to the life raft as hard as I could, against the cold wind and the high waves,” said Xu as he accepted the International Maritime Organization’s 2022 award for exceptional bravery at sea.

“The low temperature and coldness numbed my body and slowed my movement, but I knew I was racing against death,” he said.

Xu said he was able to tie two ropes around the waists of both men after reaching the life raft.

They were brought to the deck of Xu’s ship, the 4,930-dwt product tanker Jian Qiao 502 (built 2013), where Xu tried to resuscitate the pair. One young crew member survived but the second died of hypothermia.

Xu, from the Chinese eastern province of Zhejiang, told the award ceremony in London this week that his ship was alerted to the sinking cargo vessel, the Tianfeng 369, at 4am in December 2021.

The ship diverted to the scene of the accident 5-6 nautical miles away (9-11kms) in the northern part of China’s Yellow Sea and they searched for an hour before finding the life raft.

The ship’s crew threw rescue ropes to the raft but the two men were too cold and shocked to retrieve them after being immersed in the cold waters.
Merciless Sea

Xu was one of 31 people nominated for the award that recognises acts of exceptional bravery. Other notable rescues marked by the IMO included a series of rescues of migrant ships trying to reach Europe and Indian naval crews who saved 261 people following a collision between a barge and an oil rig.

“This award from IMO is not only an encouragement to me and my team but also a recognition of China’s efforts in maritime search and rescue,” said Xu.

“The sea could be merciless but humans are not. As a seafarer, I will never hesitate to jump overboard to save people in danger.