Sailing trio describe sinking ordeal after P&O cruise ship rescue near New Caledonia


Three sailors have described their lucky rescue by a P&O cruise ship near New Caledonia after they were forced to abandon their sinking boat.

Cousins Chris and Kevin Doran from Newcastle, and Ben Johnson from Vanuatu, arrived in Brisbane on Saturday morning after being picked up by the Pacific Dawn on Thursday.

Chris Doran said his motor cruiser boat, Liberty, came to an abrupt stop around 5:30am during their trip from Vanuatu to Queensland’s Gold Coast.

“Initially we thought we might have hit a reef, but looking at the navigation map, that wasn’t the case,” Chris Doran said.

They then discovered a large ship’s rope had wrapped around both propellers and caused the boat to start filling with water.

“How do you hit a piece of rope in the middle of the ocean? Bad luck,” Chris Doran said.

After about two hours of pumping water, the decision was made to get into the life raft and abandon the boat.

They activated their emergency beacon and made a call for help.

The Pacific Dawn received a call from marine authorities in Noumea, when it was about 55 nautical miles away from the men.

‘It’s a no-brainer’

Pacific Dawn Captain Alan Dockeray contacted the sailors on a satellite phone telling them he was on his way to pick them up.

“It’s a no-brainer isn’t it? You’ve got to go help them,” Captain Dockeray said.

“Fortunately they were on the route, so I didn’t have to turn back or anything like that.

“They’re very nice unexpected guests — they didn’t even look the part of shipwrecked sailors when they came onboard.”

Sailor Ben Johnson described the moment of seeing the huge ship on the horizon.

“What a sight — that’s when it all hit, how are we going to get on and then we started thinking how is this going to go down?” Mr Johnson said.

“Everyone is telling us to buy lotto tickets.”

A tender boat was lowered from the cruise ship and brought them aboard.

“It could’ve been a lot worse, especially if it happened in the middle of the night and the ship was further away,” Chris Doran said.

One of the men tried to call his wife three times but she had not answered, so Mr Johnson called his wife in Vanuatu who helped coordinate the rescue effort.

Kevin Doran said at one stage, when he was manning the hand pump below the deck, he had a moment of fear.

He told his fellow crew members, “Don’t leave me here!”

The three men said their biggest fear once on the life raft was drifting onto a reef, but they were only floating in the raft for about three hours when the cruise ship found them. Read more.