Petty Officer Michael Kelly, a rescue swimmer with the United States Coast Guard, has received the 2019 International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea during this year’s IMO Awards ceremony held on Monday.
Kelly was recognized for his courage, perseverance and skill in rescuing four survivors from a life raft from a sinking fishing vessel, in extremely high winds, battling huge waves to swim to rescue each survivor and get them winched to safety.
The Coast Guard officer, who is an Aviation Survival Technician Second Class, Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, United States Coast Guard, was nominated by the government of the United States for his part in the rescue operation in November 2018.
Accepting the award, Kelly said it was an immeasurable honour and truly humbling to be recognised by IMO.
“I would not be here if it was not for the amazing skills of my crew. Their precision and focus allowed me to act as a tiny cog in the large process of search and rescue, that we are all so passionate about and train for daily,” Kelly said. “There is nothing more precious than human life and we all strive to go home to the ones we love.”
On 14 November 2018, during heavy storms, the crew of the rescue helicopter CG6032 was directed to provide assistance to the sinking fishing vessel Aaron and Melissa II.
The vessel’s four crew members were abandoning ship in very severe weather conditions, 70 miles off the Coast of Maine, United States.
After taking off, the helicopter crew immediately encountered very strong turbulence and gusts up to 60 knots. Arriving on scene, the aircrew located a life raft, battered by raging seas.
Kelly was immediately deployed into the cold water. Battling 20-foot waves and chasing the raft, which was constantly being blown away by 50-knot winds, he finally managed to reach the anchor line and pull himself to the life raft.
It was a critical situation, with all four survivors suffering from hypothermia. Two were unable to swim, while the flooded raft was in danger of capsizing. With great strength and stamina, Kelly pulled each survivor from the raft, one by one, swimming strongly through the storm to keep them afloat. Each was lifted into the swaying rescue basket to be hoisted to safety.
After each rescue, Kelly was forced to regain lost ground, as the heavy winds continued to push the raft further away. He fought through extreme weather conditions, as well as physical and mental exhaustion, to save the lives of four seafarers in distress.