11:00 – 29 February 2008
A lifeboatman who led a daring rescue mission to save the lives of eight people on a crippled cargo ship is to be awarded one of the country’s highest medals for bravery.
Coxswain Mark Criddle led the crew which brought ashore stranded seamen from the vessel Ice Prince, which began to sink in treacherous seas on January 13.
The full dramatic details of the rescue mission are revealed today for the first time and show Coxswain Criddle and the crew of the Torbay lifeboat braving gale-force winds, mountainous waves and a towering, out-of-control ship to bring the men to safety.
Coxswain Criddle is to be honoured by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) with the Silver Medal for Gallantry, for his outstanding seamanship during the rescue.
His crew and those of the Brixham coastguard helicopter will also receive honours.
The rescue from the Ice Prince was one of the most daring in recent memory. It began when the 6,395-tonne ship with 20 crew on board became stranded in force-nine gales, 34 miles south-east of Berry Head, Devon.
The conditions were so rough that the seas shifted the boat’s cargo of timber, causing the vessel to list 25 degrees to port.
RNLI lifeboats were dispatched from Torbay and Salcombe, along with the coastguard rescue helicopter. When the crews arrived, at 9pm, they found the Ice Prince was listing 45 degrees and had lost all her power. Stranded crewmen were on the sloping deck but her rocking and unpredictable movements presented a formidable obstacle to the rescuers.
The helicopter managed to winch-off 12 men, despite the winch breaking three times and straying perilously close to the ship. By 10.10pm the remaining crew were preparing to abandon ship and it was up to the Torbay boat to evacuate them. Each had to take a leap of faith to the lifeboat, putting their trust in the safe hands of the crew.
With the wind howling in his ears and verbal communication impossible, Coxswain Criddle made the first of what would be more than 50 approaches to get the crew off the angled deck of the ship.
The rolling motion of the vessel combined with the broken water around her stern meant there was only a limited area for the lifeboat to get alongside. At every moment there was a real danger of the giant vessel’s starboard quarter smashing down on to the lifeboat’s bow where the crew were positioned.
But the crew of the RNLI lifeboat remained focused. As Coxswain Criddle explains: “The ship was quite a sight and I think some of the younger members of the crew were probably a little intimidated. But we didn’t have time to be frightened. We stayed focused on rescuing those men.”
Despite the ferocious conditions and the buffeting by the sea the lifeboat crew stayed to complete the job. Each time a man jumped from the ship they leaned forward and pulled him aboard.
Rescuing the eight men took almost two hours of constant manoeuvring in close proximity to a listing, rolling cargo ship in atrocious conditions.
Coxswain Criddle said: “It was the sort of event that happens perhaps once in your career and the team is posed with a formidable test. Fortunately we passed the test that night.” …..