Stories of the Australian Coastal Radio Service

Aquatic Cows

The Guernsey Express, a cattle carrier plied regularly between Darwin and South East Asian countries carrying thousands of heads of cattle in the thriving top end cattle trade.

The vessel used Darwin Radio for most of its ships business traffic to and from its various Australian agents and its Dutch owners. The crew too used Darwinradio, call sign VID for making radiotelephone calls to their families.

In around February 1997, the Guernsy was chartered to transport some 1000 heads of cattle from Townsville to Japan. Summer is the season for cyclones in the 'Top End' and Coral Sea and one of the several lows unfortunately developed into a full blown cyclone. By then the Guernsey was already on its way North with its full cargo bound for Japan.

In heavy weather, the engines failed and for a few days she drifted aimlessly. The engineers worked furiously to get the vessel moving again but the number one hatch was already damaged and slowly taking water.

The vessel managed to limp its way to as far as the coastal waters off Guam, when the engineroom started to take water. The uncontrolable flooding was too much for the old pumps on board and she started to list dangerously. The crew had to act before the 'tilt' of the ship prevented the launching of the lifeboats.

In the crucial last few minutes, the master made radio calls to the Dutch owners, and the Australian agents via VID. The owners initiated timely insurance claim procedures and kept the families of the crewmembers informed. The master too sent out a distress call by the VHF radio to the United States Coast Guard 'Marianas' station, Guam, which was about 50 or so nautical miles away.

The shocked crewmembers saw their vessel going down in the starry night , with the one thousand or so heads of wild, struggling cattle still imprisoned to their pens.

All the 20 or so crewmembers were later rescued by the United States Coast Guard but it was a very tragic end for the hapless animals.

Darwin Radio was subsequently sent a letter of commendation for her efficient and timely assistance in providing the very vital communication link between the disabled vessel and salvation.

Kirpal Singh, VIB

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