’Entirely unheard of’: Shock at miracle Torres Strait rescue

A SENIOR search co-ordinator who spearheaded the rescue of two men who spent 15 hours clinging to a piece of timber in the Torres Strait described their survival as a "miracle".

The pair, aged 37 and 47, who are from the islands, were incredibly spotted floating in the remote waters about 7.15am on Thursday morning by a passing oil tanker despite "horrible" conditions including huge swells and 30-knot winds.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority response centre duty manager Joe Zeller said the chance spotting of the pair by the tanker crew was not only lucky, but life saving.

The MT Godam tanker crossing through the Torres Strait spotted two people clinging to a plank of wood in the water. Picture: AMSA
The MT Godam tanker crossing through the Torres Strait spotted two people clinging to a plank of wood in the water. Picture: AMSA

"They were lucky on so many levels," he said.

"It was highly likely those men would have perished.

"It's one of the most lucky rescues I've ever been involved in. It is almost entirely unheard of, it doesn't happen."

The MT Godam tanker was on its way from Brisbane to the Marshall Islands when a crew member saw the pair in the water about 10km southeast of Sue Islet on the Warraber Reef about 7.15am on Thursday morning.

It was believed they had been in the water since 4pm on Wednesday after their vessel sank.

The tanker crew raised the alarm with the Townsville Vessel Traffic Services who called AMSA which scrambled its Challenger search and rescue jet from Cairns and the Horn Island-based Rescue 700 chopper.

"Conditions were rough with two to three metre swells with around 30 knot winds," an AMSA spokeswoman said.



The spokesman said by the time the aircraft arrived about 9am the tanker's crew had managed to retrieve one of the people, while the helicopter winched the second person from the water.

"The tanker maintained visual contact with both people throughout the rescue operation despite the challenging conditions," he said.

The men, aged 37 and 47, were transferred by the rescue helicopter to Thursday Island Hospital in a stable condition and were expected to be discharged in the afternoon.

The spokesman said the cause of the boat sinking was unclear at this early stage, but AMSA understood they were in the water since 4pm yesterday.

"AMSA would like to thank everyone involved in this rapid, collaborative and effective search and rescue which upholds the spirit of the great maritime tradition of coming to the aid of those in need," he said.

Originally published as 'Entirely unheard of': Shock at miracle Torres Strait rescue