From Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command Public Affairs
March 24, 2003, aboard USS BOONE, At Sea (NNS) - While conducting counter-drug operations in the eastern Pacific Ocean recently, USS Boone (FFG 28) spotted a small fishing boat displaying no navigation lights and making no headway.
Officer of the Deck Fire Controlman 2nd Class Elton Evatt was vigilant in his duties and responsibilities, as he reported the vessel as dead in the water with something appearing amiss.
"I definitely wanted to investigate this contact," he said to his conning officer. The ship closed in for a better look at this mysterious vessel. His actions were the beginning of a four-day saga, which ended with the rescue of 160 Ecuadorian nationals.
With little fresh water aboard and a broken main engine, the men, women and children aboard this wayward vessel, later identified as F/V Challenger, were stranded on a 60-foot fishing vessel.
Concerned for the lives of the Ecuadorians, the Boone commanding officer took steps to carry out one of the oldest traditions at sea, rescuing fellow mariners in distress. After obtaining permission from the chain of command, Boone Sailors and Coast Guardsman from the embarked law enforcement detachment (LEDET) began transferring the Ecuadorians from Challenger to Boone. Once the passengers were aboard, they were provided with blankets and a hot meal.
"As in most cases like this, the passengers were ready to leave their stranded vessel," said the LEDET officer in charge, Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Heyward Silcox. "They had run out of food and water and realized that their best option was to debark when we gave them the opportunity. When the boarding team was alongside, the passengers began gathering their belongings to leave before we even offered."
Once the passengers transferred to their ship, Boone and Coast Guard-trained personnel conducted an inspection of the vessel.
Their discoveries were alarming. The main engine compartment was flooded with nearly 4,000 gallons of water. The wooden-sided vessel was quickly losing watertight integrity. The living conditions were inhumane and unacceptable for 160 people.
As the passengers were safely brought aboard Boone, Commanding Officer Cmdr. W.L. Towns was directed by his chain of command to sink the fishing vessel Challenger, which while afloat posed a hazard to navigation to other vessels on the high seas.
Over the next four days, the Sailors and Coast Guardsmen on Boone provided the care and feeding for 160 people. Boone's medical department conducted medical screenings to determine if any of the Ecuadorians were sick or injured. The supply department answered the call by providing three hot meals a day, fresh water and blankets. The repair division rigged an ingenious toilet facility on the forecastle complete with flushing water and total privacy. Crew members from all departments volunteered additional time to stand security watches 24 hours a day.
Finally, on the fourth day, the Ecuadorians were safely repatriated to their home country.