Rough-sea rescue earns captain a gong

Oil tanker captain Ritesh Bhamaria has been recognised for rescuing two men in the Torres Strait.
Oil tanker captain Ritesh Bhamaria has been recognised for rescuing two men in the Torres Strait.

Clinging to the floating debris of a sunken boat, two fisherman spent almost 17 hours in shark-infested waters north of Australia.

It was December 2020 as the Aussie captain of oil tanker MT Godam spotted a hand waving for help from rough seas in the Torres Strait.

Ritesh Bhamaria knew he couldn't take the giant vessel too close to the stranded men.

"The two biggest issues were maintaining sight of the two men while we turned the ship around and then approached them safely," he said.

"A huge ship arriving alongside a piece of wood with two men holding on, poses quite a risk to their safety ... the ship's propeller would have posed too great a risk to the two men and the reef just behind them."

Mr Bhamaria recalled the men were being circled by hammerhead sharks as the Godam's crew dropped a life buoy with a smoke marker as close as possible.

"The movement of the ship in the water deterred the sharks away from the men."

The Godam made it to within a couple of metres of the men and retrieved one of them. A rescue helicopter arrived in time to save the second man.

The uncle and nephew duo were safe.

Mr Bhamaria's actions earned him an Exceptional Bravery at Sea Award from the International Maritime Organisation this week.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority CEO Mick Kinley acknowledged the achievement.

"Captain Bhamaria and the ship's crew displayed outstanding seamanship, coming together to the aid of others," Mr Kinley said.

"The knowledge and expertise of our marine pilots is key to the safe arrival and passage of ships bringing supplies and trade (to) Australia.

"In this instance, Capt Bhamaria's knowledge of the surrounding area and quick thinking allowed him to make decisions that enabled the rescue of the two men."

Australian Associated Press