Stranded Tongan fishermen rescued


Seven fishermen were rescued late Saturday night from Kau Island in Tonga by a local vessel, in a mission coordinated by Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ).

A New Zealand coded EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) was detected on the south-eastern beach of Kau Island in Tonga around 1pm (New Zealand time) on Friday. The EPIRB was not registered. Tonga’s Marine Operation Centre was tasked to broadcast to any vessels in the area, as was the local Coast Radio Station.

A call to the local control tower revealed that two local aircraft were in the area where the beacon alert was detected, and these were diverted to investigate. They did not see any vessel in the area, damaged or otherwise, and neither detected the 121.5MHz homing signal from the 406MHz EPIRB.

Alerts continued to be received from the EPIRB, so the search and rescue effort continued. Tongan Police contacted nearby islands to ask if they could get any local craft to investigate, and a request was made via them for assistance from a Tongan Navy Pacific Class patrol boat. The weather in the area was forecast to deteriorate over the following twelve hours, with increasing wind and swell building.

The series of beacon alerts eventually stopped. In the meantime, a local vessel from nearby Kotu Island carrying the town officer and two crew had sailed for Kao Island and found seven shipwrecked fishermen on the shore late on Saturday night. Their vessel had grounded and been lost. The men were all found to be in basically good health and, after anchoring near Kau Island overnight, were returned to Kotu Island and then onward to their respective homes.

“The rescue shows how effective an EPIRB is in raising the alarm. We commend the efforts of those on board the rescue vessel, the local aircraft, radio station and all those involved in the rescue effort. This is a great example of the Tongan community working together to achieve a successful outcome,” said RCCNZ Mission Controller Kevin Banaghan.

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