Search operation unable to locate man overboard
A maritime search operation involving vessels from Gibraltar and Spain was unable to locate a man who was lost off a ferry sailing from Algeciras to Tangier-Med in Morocco.
The initial search went on late into Sunday night and was resumed yesterday morning, without success.
The man is believed to have entered the water late Sunday evening close to the Rock.
A 7.30pm that evening Algeciras Salvamento Maritimo raised the alarm that a North African man, 31, had been lost overboard on the outbound Algeciras ferry Ciudad de Malaga in an area centred 2.2 nautical miles west-southwest of Europa Point.
The Gibraltar Port Authority launched a full-scale search.
“While we were speaking to them they intimated that they would like some help but they didn’t actually ask for it,” said VTS Manager Mike Toogood. However, they did not need to ask because the Port Authority readily offered assistance.
Within minutes, the Port’s pilot boat was on the scene, followed by HM Customs, the Royal Gibraltar Police, the Gibraltar Defence Police, Royal Navy, the Gibraltar Squadron, the Environment Agency and the Port Launch, all of whom took part in the search and rescue.
On the Spanish side, numerous vessels were deployed to search the bay, assisted from the air by a Spanish helicopter.
Philip Mandleberg, Deputy VTS Manager, explained that the Gibraltar pilot boat is always out on the water and was close to the incident at the time and in addition to this, “one other authority asset is in the water at any given time, if not more.”
“The RGP and HM Customs are normally on immediate readiness, and our guys would have been out pretty quick then too,” added Mr Toogood.
All vessels would have been on the scene within 15 to 20 minutes.
The search between Gibraltar and Spain was coordinated separately, with very minimal crossing over if any into the other country’s waters. The communications between Gibraltar’s various vessels is carried out via Tetra, which is an encrypted radio network.
“In a situation where we are saving lives they [Spanish authorities] then do try and be as helpful as they can, but even so they do not give us all the information,” said Mr Toogood.
“The rule of thumb is normally wherever the incident starts that country takes charge of the coordination, it was their incident, it was a Spanish ferry and they called us to tell us what had happened,” he added.
In addition to the authority vessels the word of a man overboard spread rapidly via social media and some boat owners boarded their vessels and turned on their search lights.
“There was a yacht that was off Rosia Bay had his search lights on but we never got any details as to who that was,” said Mr Toogood.
After several hours on Sunday evening, the Salvamento Maritimo called off their search, while the BGTW search continued until 11pm.
A scaled-down search was also carried out yesterday morning by authorities on both sides of the Bay of Gibraltar.
By this time, the searches were looking to recover a body.
“With the water being at this time of the year about 15 degrees, the survival time would have been two to three hours,” said Mr Toogood.
The survivability graph takes into account factors such as the build of the person and the clothes they were wearing.
The VTS manager told the Chronicle “it is still not clear yet” as to what caused the man to be in the water.
CEO and Captain of the Port, Commodore Bob Sanguinetti, said: “Gibraltar's multiple agencies came together to work on an extensive and coordinated search. It is unfortunate that on this occasion the lost ferry passenger was not found.”
The Port Authority only has to deal with incidents like this one occasionally, Mr Toogood said.
Mr Mandleberg added that the port is often called on to assist boat owners who have run out of fuel, adding that taking to the water sure make sure they have enough fuel on-board.