Soldiers helped local authorities rescue 12 survivors from a sinking boat off the Vanuatuan island of Ambae on November 22.

Royal Vanuatuian Ship Tukoro initially responded to a damaged boat’s distress call and picked up survivors. Small boats were then prepared to bring survivors ashore.

The team of soldiers was on the island assisting with the Government Radio Network project when Warrant Officer Class 2 Paul Farrell heard of the accident and offered help to the Vanuatu police.

“Swells were minor but did cause the boat to rock significantly, making extraction of the survivors difficult,” Warrant Officer Farrell said. 

Because communication between the Tukoro and the local responders on Ambae was hampered, the rescuers knew the number of survivors – two were babies – but not the seriousness of the accident or the survivors' status.

“As a father of a toddler, the fact that two babies could have been seriously injured was a shock and hit home hard for me, not knowing what state they were going to be in,” Warrant Officer Farrell said.

“I was taking extreme caution when moving the babies from Tukoro to the small vessel due to how slippery the bow was.” 

Medic Lance Corporal Darren McKenzie said he was impressed with the Ambae community’s response. 

He said locals had rehearsed for the situation and mobilised quickly while hospital staff were well prepared.

“The doctor briefed all responders on his priorities, recommendations for extraction and method if the situation turned into mass casualties,” he said.

“I was concerned at first, because other islands have very limited resources. With the potential of a mass casualty scenario, I started to mentally prepare myself.”   

Lance Corporal McKenzie told the doctor what he could bring and requested to be part of the triage and resus bay. 

“I was surprised by the hospital’s capacity. The resuscitation bay, ward rooms and maternity ward were well organised,” he said.

“As medics, we train to deal with incidents like this. We are placed with paramedics and emergency departments, so when faced with this kind of situation we are prepared.” 

Lance Corporal McKenzie returned to the hospital on November 24 to find the survivors had been discharged with no treatment needed.