A fisherman who was recognised for saving the crew of a sunken boat has said that he is “just thankful” that everybody came home safely.
Kris Leel, an engineer for Peterhead-based fishing boat Guiding Light, was awarded the Lady Swaythling Trophy from the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society at a ceremony in London in October.
Mr Leel helped rescued five crew members from his boat’s sister ship Guiding Star when it sunk in October 2022, 33 nautical miles off of Fair Isle.
The award for “outstanding seamanship” was given due to his use of the vessels’ power block – a mechanised winch used to haul nets – in the rescue.
Describing his courageous actions, the Shipwrecked Mariners described it as: “Quick thinking and skillful seamanship helped save the lives of five fishermen whose boat sank off the north-east coast of Scotland following a collision.”
With both vessels fishing in “challenging” conditions, which included rough seas and near gale-force winds, both ships collided when they were retrieving their gear after hauling in their catch.
‘Kris made every attempt to alert his friends on the other vessel’
It happened after Guiding Light’s bow rose in the swell and struck the Guiding Star, which resulted in the latter’s stern being sliced open and it started to go down.
Mr Leel started the forward crane and prepared numerous throwing lines to help.
Describing the next steps, the Shipwrecked Mariners said: “Seeing how quickly the boat was sinking, Kris made every attempt to alert his friends on the other vessel to the rapid flooding and the limited time they had to escape.”
To make matters worse, it soon became apparent that the lifejackets and immersion suits were inaccessible to the Guiding Star’s crew, due to them being stored in a bit that was flooded.
The crew of the Guiding Light transferred their own safety equipment to their stricken counterparts using a heaving line to get it across, moments before it sunk.
However, the rescue was not finished there, as despite Mr Leel managing to “skilfully” operate controls to lift three crew members from the from the raft and avoiding “violent movements”, a wave hit it.
“Kris could not see his colleagues in the water but kept his composure, taking direction from those on deck to locate and recover two more crew members directly from the water,” the charity said.
The remaining three crew members grabbed hold of the upturned raft and started to drift off, but were brought to safety by a helicopter.
The Shipwrecked Mariners added: “Kris demonstrated exceptional seamanship in the face of a grave situation, in relentless conditions, and given the possible consequences, under considerable pressure.
“While unconventional as a rescue, Kris’s calmness and skill in operating the power block, supported by his fellow crew, resulted in the rescue of his colleagues from a life-threatening situation.”
Speaking to The P&J, Mr Leel, who is married to Melanie and has four children, said: “The whole crew of the Guiding Light played their part in the rescue of their shipmates and I’m just thankful that both crews came home safe that day.”