Australian rescue under way for French yachtsman
SYDNEY (AFP) – An Antarctic cruise ship was Saturday racing to rescue a French yachtsman who had abandoned his boat and was drifting in a life raft hundreds of nautical miles off Australia’s southern island of Tasmania.
Australian authorities are coordinating the rescue of the round-the-world sailor, who was forced to leave his yacht after it lost its mast and sustained damage to the hull in rough conditions on Friday.
The expedition cruise vessel, Orion, is not expected to reach the Frenchman until late Sunday and a spokesman for the company said the ship could be in for rough seas on arrival, with seven-metre waves.
“He is a very experienced sailor,” a spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority told AFP, adding that when officials had been in contact with him Saturday via VHF radio he had not reported any injuries.
“Obviously he got into some trouble on Friday. An associate of his in France made contact with us.”
She declined to name the man but said he had been at sea for a number of months as he attempted a round-the-world voyage on his yacht Tchouk Tchouk Nougat.
The yacht is skippered by accomplished sailor Alain Delord and supporters left messages on his Facebook page Saturday wishing him “bon courage”.
Three aircraft attended the scene Saturday and dropped communications equipment, food, water and a survival suit. AMSA said it believed the sailor had recovered most of the equipment.
A French interpreter was onboard one of the aircraft and it was hoped they would gain further information on Delord’s condition.
“Up to three aircraft will attend the area throughout the night. At this stage, the focus of the operation is to maintain communications with the sailor,” AMSA said in a statement.
It is understood Delord had all necessary safety equipment, including an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), satellite phone, VHF radio and a survival suit, when he hit the rough weather.
The Orion has already started making its way towards the yacht’s position, diverting from its course towards Macquarie Island as it returns from a trip to the polar region.
However, it was some 380 nautical miles from the area when it got the call and was not expected to reach the area until 6pm Sunday (0700 GMT).
The vessel could be in for some rough seas on reaching the Frenchman, including 30 knot winds and seven-metre waves.
“That’s fine for the ship. The problem is not for the Orion ship but for the Frenchman being tossed around,” a spokesman for Orion Expeditions told AFP.
On Friday AMSA initially advised Delord, who did not declare he was in distress at the time, to head towards Hobart.
But later that afternoon, the authority detected an emergency beacon activation from the yacht 500 nautical miles southwest of the southern Australian island state capital.
AMSA said one of its Dornier aircraft had later confirmed the sailor had abandoned his yacht and was in a life raft.
The authority Saturday attempted to raise communications with fishing vessels within 100 nautical miles of the area to help the lone sailor, but said these attempts were so far unsuccessful.
The location is too distant for a helicopter to rescue the sailor, AMSA said but added that they will continue to keep a plane in the vicinity until a ship can assist.