OOMG Scientists Involved in At-Sea Rescue

OOMG Director Ruoying He and PhD Candidate Laura McGee were at sea 13 October – 2 November 2022, participating in R/V Atlantis‘s AT-50 research cruise. The research cruise left port in Pensacola, FL to conduct research on methane seeps along the west coast of Florida and U.S. East Coast for the NSF-sponsored project “Dispersal Depth and the Transport of Deep-Sea Methane-Seep Larvae Around a Biogeographic Barrier.”

The route took them across the Florida Straight, into the Gulf Stream, and up the U.S. East Coast to Delaware. Aside from a delayed start due to weather in Pensacola, the cruise had been proceeding normally. Their days were spent conducting HOV Alvin dives, and nights launching CDTs (conductivity, temperature, and depth measurement devices) and deploying other gear in the Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic.

Then, in the early morning hours of 28 October, science took a back seat to search and rescue. A 115 foot fishing vessel, the Tremont, collided with a 1,000 foot cargo vessel, the MSC Rita, and began rapidly taking on water off the coast of Virginia. At 1:45 a.m., the SOS from the Tremont‘s captain was received by the captain of the R/V Atlantis. As the nearest available boat, Atlantis sailed 8 miles west to assist in the rescue of the passengers and crew.

In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard received the distress call and dispatched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and an HC-130 Hercules airplane from Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and a motor lifeboat crew from Chincoteague, VA. The Coast Guard cutter Rollin Fritch was also diverted to assist.

The 12 passengers, including one child, boarded a lifeboat and were assisted by an inflatable boat from Atlantis onto another responding fishing vessel. The Tremont‘s captain, staying with the ship until the last possible moment, was hoisted by the MH-60 helicopter.

After the rescue, science proceeded as normally onboard the research vessel. Atlantis, with Dr. He and Ms. McGee, made it back to port after a busy research cruise punctuated by a life-saving mission!

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