Fire-tug “Anna” & duty crew rescues man in Strait mystery swim

Anna crew
The crew of three led by Julio Lopez (far right) on board their vessel, shown here with the lifebuoy and manoverboard alert which produced 15 minutes of dense orange smoke signal, assisting in the rescue.

Three Gibraltarian men rescued a man who is thought to have fallen overboard in the middle of the Strait at 8.50am yesterday morning.

Julio Lopez, skipper of the Fire-tug Anne, and his crew were in international waters and about to get alongside a vessel they were there to service when Mr Lopez overheard one of the vessels crossing the straits calling Tarifa traffic, the main station for any incidents in the area, to alert them to a man overboard situation.

Marking the position of where they were when the message was transmitted, the men noted on their return from their assignment that they were about three miles to the east of that position, they decided to return slowly and keeping a look out. At the same time, notice came in over the channels that a Spanish launch has been deployed and that a call was made to the Jerez helicopter station.

Mr Lopez realised that everyone was congregating in the same area and as the current was pushing north he decided to head in that direction, keeping a sharp eye out until they saw a man waving in the distance approximately four and a half miles south east from Europa point

Approaching him and pulling alongside they saw what they describe as a “frogman, black flippers, black suit, short snorkel” and deployed the side ladder straight away.

Assessing the man Mr Lopez and his crew noted that he looked like he had all his senses but he was struggling to stay awake also. While one crew member threw the man the lifebuoy another radioed the Spanish lifeboat and asked them to come over as they were about three quarters of a mile away and their boat was lower in the water.

The man clasping onto the lifebuoy was slowly being brought in by Mr Lopez and his crew, when the Spanish vessel arrived, as they pulled alongside and the two crews got ready to pass the handling of the man over, he lost consciousness and his head went into the water. With that one of the Spanish crew members jumped in the water and pulled him on board, cutting his wetsuit open in case of the need for CPR.

Unconscious but appearing to the crew as all right and not needing CPR, the Spanish launch left to take the man back to shore, at the same time the helicopter arrived on the scene and it is thought that plans were to transfer the man to Cadiz hospital.

Gibraltar police and the Gibraltar boat launch attended the incident, although it occurred in international waters. It is assumed they attended as they heard the call on channel 16. All vessels are meant to keep a watch for channel 16 around the world as it is the international calling and distress channel.

Describing the man’s appearance, Mr Lopez said: “I would say he is maybe 25, slim, I don’t think he was local; he did not look, just in case anybody thinks, that he tried to cross the strait swimming, he didn’t look Moroccan at all. I would say he was a Spaniard.” The man dressed in snorkelling gear had a belt but no weights and had been holding on to something which he let go once he was face down in the water. Given the weight the item is believed to have sunk.

It is understood the Spanish authorities are investigating the circumstances and any items recovered with the man.

According to Mr Lopez the Spanish authorities said it was thanks to them that the man is still alive, as they had been looking in the wrong place. When responding to the thanks he said: “The main thing is the man was recovered. He looked ok. The main job was done, getting the man out of the water.”
by Eyleen Sheil