September 19, 2011

Alcoans rescue fishermen after eight days stranded

Five fishermen are lucky to be alive after surviving eight days stranded in the Caribbean Sea in only a small plastic boat. The crew of the Alcoa steamship 'Pathfinder II' rescued the men, 180 miles off the coasts of Aruba and the Dominican Republic.

Over the eight days, the fishermen sounded “mayday” many times to several passing boats, but the Alcoa steamship was the only one to respond. The men endured the scorching sun and had no food during their ordeal.

The Pathfinder II arrived at Kwinana Refinery in Western Australia this month, greeted by Alcoa of Australia Managing Director Alan Cransberg. Mr Cransberg presented the captain and crew with a commemorative plaque in recognition of their heroism.

“While proud to receive the recognition and plaque, Captain Mathisen couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. He felt he was just doing what anyone in his shoes would have done, but in fact that probably wasn‟t the case,” Mr Cransberg said.

“I can't leave someone to die,” Captain Idar Mathisen said.

He believes fear of piracy, and recognition of how difficult a rescue can be, likely prevented others from helping.

“But it's a human life. There was no choice but to pick them up,” he said.

Mr Cransberg said: “The crew on the Pathfinder II was incredibly brave and handled the whole situation with absolute professionalism.

“Even in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, you'll find Alcoa's values at work.”

Alcoa Inc CEO Klaus Kleinfeld sent a personal email to Captain Mathisen and his crew soon after the rescue, thanking them for their efforts.

Norwegian born, San Francisco based, Captain Mathisen and the 25-
member crew were making a routine delivery of caustic soda (used in alumina refining), between Jamaica and Suriname, when the officer on duty heard a distress call.

When found by the Alcoa ship, the fishermen were weak and had thought they were going to die.

It's believed the group ran into trouble due to contaminated fuel, while heading to Aruba in hopes of a big catch.

Both during the rescue and in the days that followed on the ship, Mathisen's crew followed strict protocols to ensure their own safety and the safety of the fishermen. They were permitted to keep their lifejackets, but their radios were confiscated until they left the ship, to prevent their ability to communicate with others.

Three days after their rescue, the Pathfinder II arrived in Paranam, Suriname. Captain Mathisen coordinated with officials from the Venezuelan Embassy as the ship‟s caustic soda was unloaded.

Four hours before they were to set sail again, the government immigration office and Venezuelan Embassy got approval to take the rescued men to a hotel pending their return to Venezuela.

The Pathfinder II is one of five vessels in the Alcoa Steamship Company. The ships are specially built to transport alumina, liquid caustic and bauxite. The Pathfinder II rarely visits Australia.

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Media contact:
Sarah Tempest 0404 800 417
 sarah.tempest@alcoa.com.au