IS THAT YOU RAY?
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
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,
Amanda Miller/Victor Juliet Alpha Mike,
Do you read me, OVER
Here we go, I thought. A voice came back.
"IS THAT YOU RAY?"
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
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 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.
Ray Parkinson, VIP
Back to Stories