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NEWS | Feb. 8, 2022

U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll Marine Department Crew Aids Stranded Vessel

By Jessica Dambruch

KWAJALEIN ATOLL -- Personnel from the Kwajalein Marine Department aided 44 Marshallese citizens stranded during a recent small craft advisory after their vessel suffered a mechanical failure on Jan. 24, 2022 in Kwajalein Atoll.

While engaged in a routine mission to Legan, the crew of LCM-8605 picked up a faint distress call, the Marine Department said in a statement.

The Laintok, a Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority charter fishing vessel carrying passengers from Ebeye to Enniburr, drifted off-course after a mechanical failure. The boat and its passengers were adrift oceanside, north of Eller island.

In the rough seas, their captain said, they needed help to continue their journey safely. Despite their weak radio signal, Capt. Switon Tanaka was able to communicate with the Laintok’s Marshallese captain. He asked about the health of the Laintok’s many passengers. Among them were children, RMI garrison workforce employees and family members. None were reported injured.

“They said most of them were seasick, but they were all still in good shape,” Tanaka told Capt. Brent Evans.

After obtaining permission to respond with help from Kwajalein Harbor Control, the LCM transited through 29-knot winds to the Laintok. They faced challenging conditions on the water, said Evans, including nine-foot-tall waves.

“Transitioning in and out of the passes, especially when it’s windy like that—and because of the islands and the reef structure—causes that water to really stand up,” Evans said.

After drifting into the shallows of Eller, the Laintok crew had anchored at a sweet spot—a lone coral head girded by deeper water—in a strong current. Their precarious luck held until the LCM arrived.

Together with Engineman Aita Bien and Deckhand Fedner Capelle, Tanaka and Evans worked with the Laintok’s three-man crew to tow the boat to the calmer, leeward side of Eller. Next, they retrieved Laintok’s primary anchor and rode, or anchor line, the Marine Department said, to ensure the vessel could hold its position until assistance arrived. The LCM waited with the vessel until three RMI government boats arrived at the scene and transported the passengers safely home.

Evans credits Tanaka’s skill as a captain with the success of the rescue.

“It was pretty impressive, what he did with the boat,” Evans said, of Tanaka’s careful maneuvering of the lightweight LCM, as he chose the safest approach to the Laintok. “At one point, the waves pushed us so hard against them, [that Tanaka] had the rudder all the way to the starboard side, and the bow still swung the other way. Our wheels came up out of the water, once, trying to get to them.”

Tanaka is grateful to the crews of the LCM and Laintok for their close teamwork and the opportunity to assist a vessel in distress.

“Working in bad weather is hard,” Tanaka said. “[Evans] kept an eye on my guys, and the distance between [the Laintok] and our boat. I want to thank my crew and my other captain. If they were not with me, we couldn’t have saved the people. We worked together. I would like to thank all of them, for everything, from the bottom of my heart.”
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