Stories of the Australian Coastal Radio Service


The last five years of my thirteen year sea going career were spent on an Australian Tanker called the “Amanda Miller” as Radio Officer. She was a coastal tanker mainly on the crude oil run from Westernport in Victoria to Sydney or Brisbane, Barrow Island, NW of Western Australia to Kwinana near Fremantle or Port Stanvac near Adelaide. The occasional product trip, Gippsland heavy residue, heated cargo or avgas from Westernport to Kwinana etc.

The story begins in the early hours of Good Friday morning in 1975. The vessel was light ship going from Brisbane to Barrow Island, north about and I was happily ensconced in my ‘scratcher’ (bunk for the uninitiated) when the radio room, auto alarm bell went off in my cabin.

At the time we were north of Darwin and there was quite a spectacular lightning show going on through the radio room windows. I cancelled the auto alarm bell and tuned in to 500Khz morse distress frequency and presumed the auto alarm was triggered by static, but no, a couple of minutes later Darwin Radio started up with DDD SOS (Mayday Relay).

The distress was for an Indonesian wooden fishing boat called the “Bintang Samudra-3” with no call sign, which was sinking, her position looked pretty close so I ‘RRR’ (acknowledged) the message with VID (Darwin Radio) and went in search of the 2nd Mate.

He got the ‘Old Man’ (Captain) out of his bed and they estimated we were about eight hours away. I relayed this information via morse code to Darwin Radio with an offer of assistance.

VID came back to me and said we were the nearest vessel and the RCC in Canberra requested we render assistance. VID then said the vessel was on 4125Khz RTF (radiotelephony) and that I might as well take over control of the distress.

‘Nice One’, I thought, not knowing any Indonesian, but they must have copied the initial distress message. In my best ‘Pommy’ accent,

Bintang Samudra number three,
This is,
Amanda Miller/Victor Juliet Alpha Mike,
Do you read me, OVER

Here we go, I thought. A voice came back.


I acknowledged in the affirmative.

"It’s Keith Skinner here, we have sprung a couple of bloody planks and taking water, our engine is flooded and we are using a hand pump one at a time in five minute spells. We have all called “Hughie and Ralph” and the one pumping is up to his waist in a mixture of seawater, diesel and spew, nice to hear your voice. OVER."

Keith Skinner was a Marine Pilot at Barrow Island and we all knew him well and had taken a lot of money off him at ‘Crown and Anchor’ a dice game.

It transpired that Keith and three of his mates (all workers from Barrow Island) had bought an Indonesian Fishing boat called the Bintang Samudra-3. They had renovated her in Darwin and were sailing back to Barrow Island so they could cruise around the Montebello Islands north of Barrow Island in their time off.

Keith explained that they had strong easterlies and under sail were going well until they sprung some planks. He only had a DR (dead reckoning) position, as they had not seen the sun or stars (for a sight to get a position) since departure Darwin (this was before GPS positioning).

Darwin Radio advised us that a P3-Orion and two Beachcraft planes would be sent up at first light, to help us locate the vessel. The P3-Orion called me and asked me to describe the ‘Amanda Miller’ which I did and they could not even find us (78,000-ton tanker).

Keith’s DR position was pretty good and our Chief Officer spotted them and requested them to set off a flare which confirmed it was them. Next thing the P3-Orion buzzed us waggling its wings as though we did not know where the Bintang Samudra-3 was.

We rescued them all ok and managed to get her fridge and beer off and all other valuables they could unbolt and carry. We watched her sink as we left.

We then transported the very green and tired crew to Barrow Island. When we got back to Kwinana the agent had saved the newspapers; news must have been short over Easter as we made the front page.

The article said how the RCC in Canberra had received the Mayday call and our Airforce boys had led the Amanda Miller to the vessel in distress. Nothing changes!

Ray Parkinson, VIP

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