NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY, Bahrain -- Seven Bahraini fishermen foundering in their boats amid a hailstorm were rescued by Afloat Forward Staging Base(Interim) USS Ponce (LPD 15) 15 off the coast of Bahrain, Oct. 29.
At 6:37 a.m. local time, 30 nautical miles northeast of Bahrain, the crews of two small skiffs, waiving their arms in distress, were spotted by Ponce. The fishermen showed signs of cold and exhaustion and were quickly assisted aboard by Ponce's crew. The fishermen are in good condition after receiving medical care, dry clothes and food.
"Every Sailor understands the dangers of going to sea, especially in bad weather," said Capt. Jon Rodgers, commanding officer of Ponce. "Today, I could not be more proud of this crew of civilian mariners and military members working together, shoulder-to-shoulder in this rescue. This crew did exceptionally well as evidenced by the appreciation expressed by our new Bahraini shipmates."
Ponce crew members woke up early to conduct a fresh water washdown when the storm arrived.
"Everything happened so fast," said Informaton Systems Technician 1st Class Charles Linton. "I was on security detail when we received word of the vessels needing assistance. The boats came close enough to the ship so that we could throw them a line and pull them alongside, and eventually we used the accommodation ladder to bring the fishermen aboard. They were all friendly and very appreciative, and no one was severely injured."
One of the seven fishermen, Sayed Saleh, a Bahraini sales executive, went on the early morning fishing trip with a group of friends and family for leisure when the storm unexpectedly hit in the vicinity of their fishing vessels.
"The wind became so strong, and then ice and rain started to come down hard," said Saleh. "We saw the Navy ship and we knew we only had one choice, since the weather was so bad. All of us waved our hands, white cloths and started yelling for help, and did our best to get closer to the ship."
Navy meteorologists stationed in Bahrain monitored thunderstorm conditions in the Gulf today, with 30 - 35 knot winds with hail measuring nearly 1 centimeter in size.
Although rending assistance to vessels in distress is not a new mission for the U.S. Navy, it was a very unique experience for civilian and military crew members on Ponce.
"I am glad we were there for the Bahraini fishermen," said Allison Rogers, a deck hand aboard Ponce. "They were really getting beat up on those small boats and the wind was close to 50 knots. As soon as they came aboard we made sure they had food, water, warm clothes and blankets."
"The crew took care of us and even our boats. I could not be more grateful." said Saleh.
Ponce returned to port in Bahrain at 2:10 p.m. local time with the two fishing boats being towed. The seven fishermen and their fishing boats were transferred to the Royal Bahraini Coast Guard once Ponce moored in Bahrain.
"The U.S. Navy 5th Fleet contributes to security and stability in the Gulf on an enduring basis. When our presence puts us in a position to render aid to mariners in distress, it validates the importance of our 60 year partnership with the Kingdom of Bahrain," said Vice Adm. John Miller, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet/Combined Maritime Forces.
Ponce is the U.S. Navy's versatile mine countermeasures platform that was recently employed in the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012. Ponce is also capable of a full range of operations including humanitarian assistance.
Formerly designated as an amphibious transport dock (LPD), Ponce was recently converted and reclassified to fulfill a longstanding U.S. Central Command request for an Afloat Forward Staging Base to be forward deployed here.