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Nevasa Student Rescue Story

By Steve B (5th Engineer)

The date was late 1974 on ss Nevasa in the Mediterranean Sea, at the Greece end of the Med as I recall. We were at a boat port, a place where the harbour isn't big enough for the larger ships to enter so the passengers had to be ferried ashore in the lifeboats. At ports like this the off duty officers and crew would take the opportunity to go exploring in one of the lifeboats, the rule was there had to be a deck officer with a radio, someone with a boat ticket and an engineer in case a mechanical problem arose. On this occasion I was the only engineer and the Chief Officer came with us. Sadly I can't remember his name but I can still see his face clearly in my mind's eye, the significance of which will become clearer later. The details of the day including where we went to or what we did has been lost by my ageing alcohol soaked brain cells but what happened on the way back is firmly engraved in my memory.

I took this photo just before the incident happened which shows how far away from the ship we were at the time.

We were puttering back at normal full speed, I'd say about 5 or 6 knots but I stand corrected, when the Chief Officer heard a distress call from the ship saying a young boy had fallen overboard and was struggling to stay afloat, most of the other lifeboats were at the port waiting for passengers to return from whatever shore excursions they'd been on. The call asked for the nearest lifeboat to come back and rescue the boy thinking that would be quicker than trying to lower one of the boats still on it's davits. The Chief Officer decided he wanted to be the hero and asked me if I could make the boat go any faster and I told him only if I overrode the engine speed governor which may damage the engine, he immediately without hesitation ordered me to do it saying he would take full responsibility so I did. To do it my hand was down the side of the engine with my arm very close to the cylinder head which in no time started to get very hot and smoke started coming from all around the engine. My arm started to burn and I was choking with the smoke so they wrapped a wet towel around my arm and around my nose and mouth and you could probably have skied behind that boat. We did get there first and the moment we throttled back on the engine it stopped abruptly but we did rescue the boy. When I tried to restart the engine so we could get back to the davits it wouldn't start, in fact it wouldn't even turn over, so then we had to be rescued by the next arriving lifeboat. We were towed back to the davits and hoisted up amongst the riotous cheers of all the passengers aboard who'd witnessed the whole event.

I went back to my cabin to get cleaned up and have a well earned beer but was instructed to go straight to the Chief Engineer's cabin. In the cabin was Willy Paterson (Chief Engineer), George McHugh (2nd Engineer), the Captain and the Chief Officer in question. I thought I was about to receive a huge slap on the back but instead I received the biggest bollocking I've ever received in my entire life. Willy Paterson went ballistic at me telling me that my actions had put over 150 lives in danger as we would have to sail with one lifeboat with a seized engine which completely put it out of commission. None of the others in the cabin said one word, they just added to my embarrassment of being publicly keel hauled and all the time I was waiting for the Chief Officer to speak up and take full responsibility as he'd promised but not one word came from his gutless lying mouth.

My punishment was that during my eight hours off between watches I had to get into that lifeboat while hanging on the davits and remove the engine, strip it down in the workshop, repair it and refit it back into the lifeboat and I had to do it all on my own without any help from anybody. It turned out that the crankshaft had got so hot it bent when it stopped turning which was why it couldn't be started again so I had to set the crankshaft up on the lathe between centres and re-machine all the journals then make oversized white metal bearings. The whole thing took me about three days with very little sleep.

It was a huge life lesson learned at just 21 years of age and that was;

Don't trust another living soul on this fucking planet and the only person who's going to cover your arse in this life is YOU!

Another thought that goes through my mind when I think of this day in my life ... If I'd refused to frig the governor on that day and the kid had drowned, would that've been my fault too?

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