Coastguard Nelson wins prestigious international accolade at IMRF Awards

Coastguard Nelson have been announced as winners at the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) Awards announced overnight – receiving the award for Outstanding Team Contribution to Maritime SAR Operations.  

The IMRF Awards recognise search and rescue (SAR) professionals around the world for their outstanding actions, skills, expertise and commitment to SAR activities.

Coastguard Nelson alongside Nelson Police SAR Squad, Tasman District Harbourmaster and Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) were recognised for their contribution to the rescue of the SV Ocean Gem near Rangitoto kit e Tonga/D’Urville Island on 18-19 March 2020. This successful rescue took more than 14 hours and brought six people, including David Hows, home safely. 

"Coastguard Nelson deserve this award because as professional volunteers they put their lives and their vessel at risk to come to the aid of SV Ocean Gem and her crew of 6 in very difficult and challenging conditions,” he said. 

"We are forever indebted to the Nelson Coastguard for the selfless work of their entire team in keeping sailors safe on the water and bringing people who get into difficulty on the ocean, home to their families." 

Coastguard Nelson president Peter Kara said this award is testament to the efforts of all emergency services that were involved in the rescue. 

“This was a complex, delicate rescue that required all emergency services to work together and put their own lives at risk. It’s fantastic to receive such a special award from IMRF, which only speaks volumes about the difficulty and bravery of the volunteers’ actions during the rescue,” he said.  

Coastguard CEO Callum Gillespie also noted the exceptional circumstances of this rescue and how the Coastguard Nelson crew risked their own lives to save others. 

"The five-person crew travelled outside their normal area of operation to assist a yacht nearly twice the size of their rescue vessel. Whilst this search and rescue operation challenged the crew both physically and mentally, it speaks to the level of selflessness and dedication amongst Coastguard volunteers,” he said. 

“This international award represents all Coastguard volunteers around New Zealand and their collective efforts to save those at sea.” 

Rescue details 

When the Mayday call was first received by RCCNZ at 9pm, the 12-tonne sailing yacht, en route from Hobart to Picton, had lost its steering and was drifting helplessly in the Cook Strait Channel in winds gusting between 20 and 25 knots. 

Without intervention from rescue agencies to ensure a safe arrival into Aotearoa, the vessel would eventually drift into rocks, putting the yacht and its crew in harm’s way. 

In the hours that followed, a full-scale search and rescue operation was carried out that pushed the Coastguard crew to their limits and combined the expertise and resources of both land-based and on-water SAR agencies. 

RCCNZ advised Coastguard Nelson and Police of the situation and at 4am, the Coastguard crew set out on a lengthy journey into the night to reach the stricken vessel. 

Back and forth communication between Coastguard, RCCNZ and Ocean Gem detailing the vessels moving position, greatly assisted the Coastguard crew in their search efforts as they navigated a 3-4m swell under the cover of darkness. 

Ocean Gem had drifted so far out that Coastguard Nelson had to obtain a special exemption from Maritime New Zealand which allowed them to travel outside their area of operation to reach the yacht. After a long passage, at 7:20am, Coastguard finally rendezvoused with Ocean Gem where all crew were found safe and accounted for. 

Earlier this year Coastguard Nelson won Rescue of the Year and also received a Certificate of Achievement at the NZSAR Awards. Coastguard New Zealand congratulates all of the winners at the IMRF Awards.


For more information, contact:
Ben Parsons
Coastguard New Zealand Senior Communications Advisor
[email protected]
+64 21 756 405

Thanks to our life-saving partners:
  • Auckland Council
  • Northland Regional Council
  • Waikato Regional Council
  • Hutchwilco
  • Marine Deals
  • Tower
  • Kordia
  • Hyundai
  • Line7
  • Century Batteries
  • Half Moon Bay
  • NZCT
  • Lotteries Grants Board
  • Lion Foundation
  • Pub Charity