18TH February, 1986
I wish to bring to your attention the following pertinent remarks covering the loss of the mv “MIKHAIL LERMONTOV”, callsign UQTT off Cape Jackson, 16th February, 1986.
On resuming duty at 1800 hrs NZDT “ARAHURA” was proceeding towards Picton. Mr. James (2nd Mate) informed me that he had just earlier overheard the word ‘MAYDAY’ in a communication on channel 16 VHF from Wellingtonradio to the “MIKHAIL LERMONTOV”.
At 1810 hrs NZDT this vessel called Wellingtonradio on 2182 KHz informing them of our position as being 41.15 south 174.14 east and at the same time requesting further details. Wellingtonradio replied that there appeared to be a problem with the “MIKHAIL LERMONTOV”, but was uncertain of what had happened. We then further requested from Wellingtonradio whether they intended to transmit a general alarm signal on 2182 KHz / 500 KHz, he replied, ‘most likely’.
Again at 1822 hrs NZDT we informed Wellingtonradio that in three minutes time we would be one hour steaming time from the Russian vessel.
1830 hrs NZDT we received instructions from R.C.C. Wellington, through Wellingtonradio, to continue our voyage to Picton.
Our TR departure from Picton was acknowledged by Wellingtonradio at 1948 hrs NZDT on 500 KHz.
At 2005 hrs NZDT we received instructions from R.C.C. to proceed to the “MIKHAIL LERMONTOV” to assist with the evacuation of Passengers and Crew.
Following from receipt of this R.C.C. message, timed at 160700z, the search and rescue proceedings are fully documented by radio logs, message forms etc.
The questions that I feel obligated to ask are as follows:-
(a) What were the “MIKHAIL LERMONTOV” Radio Staff doing during the hours preceding the abandoning of the vessel.
(b) A request was made through ZLW for the vessel to come up on 2182 KHz. A reply was received (through ZLW) informing us that the Pilot was uncertain where the 2182 KHz transmitter/receiver was located, and therefore could not oblige.
(c) When the true gravity of the situation was known, why was not a general alarm distress relay made by ZLW.
(d) VHF communications proved to be most unreliable under these circumstances and it was fortunate that “ARAHURA” with a Radio Officer was available to accept the role of a communications centre.
From the foregoing, valuable time was lost by directing “ARAHURA” to continue our voyage to Picton. Evacuation results could easily have been reversed, should the weather been worse.
Rail Ferries watch keeping auto alarm equipment on 500 KHz is operational at all times during the voyages of these vessels.
2182 KHz is monitored continuously during each voyage. On board “ARAHURA” a 2182 KHz auto alarm receiver is located on the Bridge.
Reluctance by Search and Rescue to upgrade when contingencies change.
“MIKHAIL LERMONTOV” according to the I.T.U. 1985 list of Ship Stations was well equipped to communicate on all Marine frequencies.
The above statement covers serious areas, but without a full discussion, could easily be swept under the carpet.