ROYAL Navy sailors from a Portsmouth warship have saved two Algerian fishermen who had had been stranded at sea for four days.
An eagle-eyed lookout from HMS Duncan spotted the men’s boat by chance in the western Mediterranean – and the warship immediately offered food, fuel and life-saving assistance.
Duncan, which has spent 2018 leading a Nato task group in the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean, was making her way to Portugal when she came across the stranded fishermen about 70 miles off the Algerian coast.
So small was the men’s boat that the Type 45 destroyer was just 600 feet away before it was spotted by officer of the watch Lieutenant Rob Coatsworth, who was scanning the horizon for anything unusual.
‘The fishermen were incredibly lucky to be spotted,’ he said. ‘The sun was low on the horizon, the swell was heavy and they had no signalling equipment.
‘The odds were very much against them as they were 70 miles North of Algeria and outside any shipping lanes.
‘It was only a sharp lookout that raised the alarm, there was absolutely nothing on radar.’
Duncan immediately launched her sea boat with Royal Marines, a medic and an engineer aboard to offer help.
Medical assistant Rhiann Dilmore said the two men in the boat were in a bad way.
She said: ‘They had been eating raw fish and were drinking sea water.
‘We patched them up and gave them hot drinks and halal food and made sure they were warm and reassured.
‘Their engine had run out of fuel so we got it going.’
Petty Officer Daniel Law, who normally looks after Duncan’s diesel engines, added: ‘They had been adrift for nearly five days.
‘I filled the tank and primed the engine and she started first time.
‘We all just smiled. I cannot speak Arabic and they had no English but the smiles said it all.
‘It was really humbling to see the look of gratitude by those we had rescued.’
Duncan’s assistance did not end there. She accompanied the small boat for several miles until an Algerian Coast Guard vessel arrived to take over the rescue effort.
‘Being adrift in an open boat at night must have been petrifying. We quickly made contact with the Algerian Coast guard and arranged for a suitable rendezvous for the early hours of the morning,” said operations officer Lieutenant Commander Ben Dorrington.
‘Our sea boat escorted the fishermen throughout the night until a positive handover was made with Algerian authorities. We wish our fellow mariners well.’
Everyone aboard is convinced without the destroyer’s intervention, the fate of the two men would have been bleak.
‘The efforts of the crew were heart-warming,’ said Lieutenant Commander Florentine Dhellemmes, a French exchange officer aboard HMS Duncan. ‘The fishermen would have had no chance without rescue.’