IMO recognises US couple's 'exceptional bravery'

 ‘Hi, my name is Maurice and I’ll be your rescuer today!’ These were the words that brought the end to a nightmare for a crew of three whose yacht Timella disintegrated in very heavy weather off a remote South Pacific coral reef. 

IMO Bravery Award

The rescue efforts of American couple Maurice and Sophie Conti (clockwise from left, Ali Timms, Elizabeth Schoch, Cameron Slagle, Sophie and Maurice Conti) on their Catana 471 catamaran Ocealys were recognised by the IMO, which presented them with its Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea on Monday 23 November at the IMO’s headquarters in London.

Late in the night of 12 October Maurice and Sophie Conti were anchored in a lagoon within a coral reef in the South Pacific with their young family when they picked up a Mayday on VHF 16 from the 33ft Seadog ketch Timella with a Kiwi crew of three, Ali Timms, Elizabeth Schoch and Cameron Slagle, which had struck an isolated reef two and a half hours sailing time away. The Contis made contact with authorities in New Zealand and Fiji but, in the absence of marine or aviation rescue assets being immediately available, they planned and executed themselves the rescue of the Timella crew members, exposing themselves to considerable risk.

They kept contact with Wellington MRCC and Attache Mike Randall at the New Zealand High Commission in Suva, Fiji. Ocealys had to extricate herself from her anchorage by back-tracking in the dark amongst the coral heads following the GPS track by which they had gone in. There was no buoyed or lighted channel.

By the time of their arrival at dawn at the Takau Lakaleka reef, Timella had broken up and sunk in 5m swells. The survivors were hanging on to the remains of their inflatable dinghy but lacerated by the sharp coral of the reef and hypothermic. Maurice Conti, also a trained rescue diver and seen here preparing for his mission, successfully took his Zodiac inflatable onto the shallow waters of the reef, collected the survivors with the greeting ‘Hi, my name is Maurice and I’ll be your rescuer today!’ and took them back to Ocealys waiting off the reef under the control of Sophie Conti. The final transfer was made with only minor scrapes despite the big sea running.