A ROYAL Navy engineer who dived into freezing waters in the engine room of a sinking tug has earned a Queen’s commendation for his bravery.
Chief Petty Officer (Marine Engineering Mechanic) Neil Halsey led a three-man team on board the stricken tug Christos XXII, which had been hit by a vessel she was towing off the coast of Torbay last year.
Armed with only softwood wedges to hammer into holes and two pumps, the Gosport sailor plunged into a dark engine room filled with fumes and shoulder-height oily water.
CPO Halsey was serving on board Portsmouth-based HMS Lancaster at the time, when the ship picked up the mayday call from the vessel.
The 43-year-old’s determination meant the vessel stayed afloat and did not leak diesel along the coast.
CPO Halsey said: ‘I am very honoured to be receiving the award. It gives me a great sense of purpose to know my work for the Royal Navy has been recognised.
‘It was a cold, wet night in the English Channel and knowing the actions of my team that night prevented the sinking of the vessel and more importantly the prevention of a major environmental disaster gives me great pleasure.
‘The damage to the local tourism trade, economy and wildlife would have been devastating.
‘This is a great example of the high-quality training we receive in the Royal Navy and when called upon and put to good use it deals with the most demanding situation.’
HMS Lancaster arrived at the scene along with navy patrol vessel HMS Severn.
Presenting the award to CPO Halsey, Fleet Commander, Vice-Admiral Philip Jones, said: ‘Recognising the first-class contribution that our people make to the Royal Navy is an essential part of my role as Fleet Commander and I take great pleasure in presenting this award.
‘Not only do I get the chance to say thank you in person to all the award recipients, but also their friends and families, who have made an undoubted contribution to their loved ones’ success. These men and women have made a huge difference, in a range of remarkable ways, and should be incredibly proud of their achievements.’
Despite a lack of moonlight and a biting northern wind, CPO Halsey assessed that the water needed to be stemmed quickly to avoid sinking, and made the bold decision to step on board himself.
He set the first pump to work and then re-entered the engine space with two others to hammer wooden wedges into a hole underneath the machinery.
An hour later, and with water above their head and shoulders the team managed to reduce the incoming water by around 70 per cent, setting a second pump to work within the confined space.
Despite conditions worsening and the tug being in danger of capsizing, CPO Halsey remained steadfast for two further hours to ensure the pumps continued their work.
As reported in The News, he was also recognised in the operational honours list for his efforts.