IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea 2011 goes to hijacked ship Master Captain Seog Hae-gyun of the Republic of Korea

IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea 2011 goes to hijacked ship Master Captain Seog Hae-gyun of the Republic of Korea
IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea 2011

​Captain Seog Hae-gyun poses with his medal after he received the 2011 Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea. London.
Captain Seog Hae-gyun of the Republic of Korea, Master of the chemical tanker Samho Jewelry, has been presented with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea 2011, for his decisive, brave and courageous actions to protect his ship and crew during a vicious pirate attack in the Indian Ocean, which left him with serious and long-lasting injuries.

Captain Seog, accompanied by his wife, was handed the award by IMO Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, during a ceremony held on 21 November 2011 at IMO Headquarters in London.

When the Samho Jewelry was boarded by pirates, in January 2011, the crew took cover in the designated citadel but the pirates broke in, detaining them on the bridge. Over two days, Captain Seog steered the ship on a zig-zag course, so that the pirates would not realize that the vessel was actually heading away from, instead of towards, Somali waters. He contaminated the fuel so the engines would not work normally, pretended the steering gear was malfunctioning and slowed the ship’s speed from 14 knots to six, to keep her out of Somali waters for as long as possible, thus maximizing the potential for units of the Republic of Korea Navy to attempt a rescue. However, the pirates became suspicious that some of Captain Seog’s actions were intended to outwit them and they brutally assaulted him, causing serious fractures to his legs and shoulders.

While all this was happening, the pirates ordered him to communicate information about the incident to his shipping company in English, via satellite. Captain Seog surreptitiously inserted information in Korean about the true situation – information that proved vital for the Navy of his country to plan, and execute, a rescue operation.

On 21 January, as the sun came up, the Republic of Korea Navy destroyer Choi Young launched a rescue operation, which they named “Dawn of the Gulf of Aden”. By 06.30 on that day, the attack team had gained full control of the bridge. During this time, Captain Seog, despite his injuries, managed to send out an urgent message via VHF, warning the boarding party that there were three pirates at the steering wheel.

The already-injured Captain Seog survived being shot four times, including twice in the abdomen, by pirates firing in revenge. Having received emergency treatment from the Special Assault Commando, he was transported by means of an inflatable craft and a helicopter to the Sultan Qaboos Hospital in Oman.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Korea naval forces involved in the assault continued operations on the ship, and all 21 crew members eventually were freed. In all, eight pirates were killed and five captured.

From the Omani hospital, Captain Seog was transferred to a hospital in the Republic of Korea, where he underwent major surgery. It was nearly a month before he recovered full consciousness.

Mr. Mitropoulos said that the fact that Captain Seog’s act of bravery has been judged as deserving the top honour had particular resonance this year, “when piracy has been at the epicentre of our activities, spurring and motivating us to orchestrate a credible response to its menace”.

“Captain Seog Hae-gyun was confronted not by the elements that nature can throw at men and ships, but an even more insidious danger: that of pirates threatening him, his crew and his ship. In response, he acted with quick thinking, courageously, decisively and with extreme bravery to protect all those whose lives depended on him and his decisions. His selfless reaction left him with severe injuries and nearly cost him his life,” Mr. Mitropoulos said.

The Award takes the form of a silver medal depicting, on one side, a search and rescue operation with a sinking ship in the background and a helicopter rescuing survivors from the sea in the foreground, with the IMO logo on the reverse side.

Special recognition to MRCCs Falmouth and Stavanger
During the ceremony, special Certificates of Commendation were awarded to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) Falmouth (United Kingdom) and Stavanger (Norway), for their contribution, on several occasions, to search and rescue operations unfolding in distant areas, far away from their respective countries’ search and rescue regions, over many years.

Certificates to highly commended nominees
In addition to the Award itself, certificates were also presented during the ceremony to the following “highly commended” nominees or their representatives:

Mr. Wang Hao, rescue swimmer of the B-7313 SAR helicopter aircrew, Bei Hai Search and Rescue Flying Service, Ministry of Transport, China, nominated by China, for keeping an injured fisherman alive by removing a cable that had been wrapped around the injured man’s neck during a hoisting operation in heavy seas, in January 2011.

Captain Cao Deguang, Master of the rescue vessel Bei Hai Jiu 111, Bei Hai Rescue Bureau, Ministry of Transport, China, nominated by China, for rescuing, in severe weather, in December 2010, all six crew members of the bauxite carrier, Li Zhou 8, which had had its hatch covers ripped off by high winds and was taking on water.

Mr. Guo Wenbiao, who has been responsible for saving many lives since setting up the first self-financing, volunteer life-saving station (called “Folk Relieving Station of the Sea Peace”) in Zhejiang Province, China, in 2008. He was nominated by China for attempting to rescue seven crew members of a fishing vessel, diving seven times and locating six bodies in the cabin, in May 2010, after professional divers had given up the search.

The crew of the container ship Charlotte Maersk, nominated by Denmark, for fighting and extinguishing an aggressive, fast-evolving fire aboard their ship, in July 2010. The fire erupted shortly after the ship left Port Klang, Malaysia. Huge flames leapt 50 metres in height and violent explosions ripped through containers, many of which were carrying dangerous goods. The Master and 21 crew members successfully fought the fire without professional help, putting their own lives at stake to stop the fire from spreading and thereby save their ship and cargo.   

Third Petty Officer Jesús Damián Orta Sáenz and Corporal Edgar José Iturriaga Cariño, rescue swimmers of the Mexican Navy, based in Yukalpetén, Yucatán. They were nominated by Mexico, for rescuing seven persons from the grounded fishing vessel,  Hulkin V, in June 2010. Their ocean patrol vessel could not, owing to its draught, approach the stranded ship, from which it remained at a distance of 600 metres, forcing the two rescuers to undertake a long and exhausting swim to and from the Hulkin V – an exercise, which they had to repeat several times in heavy seas, to bring back all the survivors.

The Master and crew of the general cargo ship Momentum Scan, nominated by the Netherlands, for their tireless and persistent efforts in rescuing 226 migrants, including women and children, from a 20-metre long wooden boat that was taking on water and sinking, in harsh weather and heavy seas, in the Adriatic Sea, in January 2011 – this, despite their having no previous search and rescue experience.

The crew of the Coast Guard rescue helicopter 6022, U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, with special individual recognition to rescue swimmer AST2 Sara Faulkner, (nominated by the United States of America) for rescuing, at night, all three people from the yacht Arktur. The yacht had lost its engine and sail power off the Bahamas, in December 2010. Cohesive teamwork ensured the r
escue was successful, despite large swells, which hampered the hoisting of survivors aboard the helicopter.

Chief Engineer Anthony Gervasio and Qualified Member of the Engineering Department (QMED) Louis Longlois, crewmembers of the offshore supply vessel Damon B. Bankston, nominated by the United States of America, for placing their own lives at risk while rescuing survivors from the Deepwater Horizon Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit, in the Gulf of Mexico, following a devastating explosion on the rig in April 2010. The Damon B. Bankston crew, who had been standing-by for a routine transfer, deployed the vessel’s fast rescue craft after hearing the explosion and Mr. Gervasio and Mr. Longlois directly saved 23 lives, locating people in the water amidst flames and debris raining down. They went on to assist in the rescue of another 92 people from the rig’s lifeboats.  

Letters of Commendation
Furthermore, letters of commendation were sent to the following nominees:

Six Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Marine Enforcement Officers serving aboard the Australian Customs and Border Protection Vessel Triton, and 12 members of the Australian Defence Force serving on the patrol boat HMAS Pirie, nominated by Australia, for rescuing 41 survivors from a small wooden vessel which had smashed against rocks off Christmas Island, in December 2010, with an estimated 70 to 100 persons on board. The rescuers spent some ten hours picking up survivors and recovering bodies.

The crew of the helicopter UH-12 “N-7051”, call sign Albatroz 51, of the Brazilian Navy 5th Squad of Helicopters for General Use, nominated by Brazil, for rescuing all three survivors from a yacht that had gone adrift off the coast of Brazil, in February 2011. The three survivors had to be hoisted from the heavy seas and required the helicopter’s diver to go into the water himself, as the height of the yacht’s mast meant that rescue directly from the yacht’s deck was impossible.

The crew of the rescue tugboat Nan Hai Jiu 197, Nan Hai Rescue Bureau,
Ministry of Transport, China, nominated by China, for saving four out of five persons aboard a small cargo ship that had sunk in severe weather, in January 2011. The crew decided to launch the tugboat’s small lifeboat, despite the heavy waves, as it would be faster than the tugboat itself. They searched for and rescued four survivors, who had been adrift in lifejackets in the cold sea.

The crew of the fishing boat Zhe Ping Yu 0158, nominated by China, for the
rescue of three crew members from the stricken fishing vessel Cang Long Yu 022 during super-typhoon Fanapi, in September 2010. In severe weather they deftly manoeuvred their boat alongside the damaged vessel, before transferring the crew and then towing it to safety.

Italian Coast Guard 7th Naval Squadron, Lampedusa, Sicily, nominated by Italy
for working day and night, seven days a week, to save the lives of thousands of people from boats and rafts adrift or sinking in the waters surrounding the island of Lampedusa. Most of those rescued were refugees or migrants and included pregnant women and others needing medical attention.

Captain Zaw Aung and the crew of the chemical tanker MTM Princess,
nominated by Myanmar, for rescuing all four persons from the yacht Octagon, which had lost its steering and was taking on water. The rescue took place in darkness, bad weather and heavy seas, in the Atlantic Ocean, 300 miles north west of Spain, in June 2010.

Captain Jeffrey J. Federigan of the cargo ship Delmas Nacala, nominated by the
Philippines, for out-manoeuvring, over a period of three hours, pirates in two skiffs, 600 miles off the coast of Seychelles, in March 2010. The pirates repeatedly attempted to reach the ship, firing at it with rocket-propelled grenades, but the Master performed zig-zag manoeuvres and successfully evaded boarding.

The crew of the patrol ship Taepyeongyang No.9, from the Coast Guard of the
Republic of Korea, nominated by the Republic of Korea, for rescuing all three crew members and 12 passengers from a cargo-passenger ship, in high winds, heavy seas and snow, in December 2010. The ship had already started sinking when it made the distress call but capsized within minutes of the patrol vessel arriving. Seven people were thrown into the freezing water from which they were rescued, while the other eight people were recovered from the upturned ship.

The crew of the Coast Guard MH-60J helicopter CG 6007, U.S. Coast Guard Air
Station Kodiak, nominated by the United States of America, for rescuing, at night, in blowing snow and sub-zero temperatures, all five crew members from a stranded fishing vessel, in Alaska, in February 2011. The survivors were hoisted to safety one by one, as the helicopter worked in dangerous conditions, avoiding swinging masts, rigging and a nearby cliff.

Bei Hai SAR Flying Service, China Rescue and Salvage Bureau, Ministry of
Transport, China, nominated by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF), for hoisting to safety, under difficult conditions, all 25 persons clinging on to a damaged drilling platform, which was tilting at a 45 degree angle, in heavy seas and high winds, in September 2010.  

Mr. Zhou Guoxiong, boatswain of the rescue vessel Dong Hai Jiu 113, Donghai
Rescue Bureau, Ministry of Transport, China, nominated by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF), for his personal involvement in saving six of the 17 people who had been lost overboard when their cargo ship sank, in December 2010, in darkness and rough seas. At one point Mr. Zhou Guoxiong jumped into the cold water to help a survivor who was too weak to
grab the rescue rope himself.   

IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea
The IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea was established by IMO to provide
international recognition to those who, at the risk of losing their own life, perform acts of exceptional bravery in attempting to save life at sea or in attempting to prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment – and, by so doing, help to raise the profile of shipping and enhance its image.

A total of 38 nominations from 14 Member States and one non-governmental
organization in consultative status with IMO were received and considered by an Assessment Panel consisting of experts nominated by various international non-governmental organizations. A Panel of Judges then met, under the chairmanship of the Chairman of the IMO Council, with the participation of the Chairmen of IMO’s Maritime Safety, Marine Environment Protection, Legal, Technical Co operation, and Facilitation Committees.