Plymouth commandos to the rescue as Sierra Leone ferry breaks down

Royal Marines came to the rescue of stranded ferry passengers stuck for three hours in sweltering heat.

A team of four marines from 42 Commando, normally based at Bickleigh outside Plymouth, came across the stricken vessel as they were conducting training with Sierra Leone military off the capital Freetown.

The ferry was carrying locals between the city and Lungi, across the mouth of the Sierra Leone River and the location of the country’s principal airport.

The Brits – a four-man ‘Short-Term Training Team’ – were out with Sierra Leone personnel looking for a suitable location for a major exercise when they encountered the ferry.

Although there was no SOS call over the radio, the ferry’s crew indicated using hand signals that they were in distress.

A number of passengers were infirm, distressed or with young children and infants and there were cases of dehydration

Lt Tom Brunt

Together with local military, the marines crossed to the ferry and tried to fix the fault.

The commandos found both the ferry’s engines out of action – one had seized up a few days earlier, while the sole working motor had also packed up because it had run out of fuel.

When it became clear that the team couldn’t get the ferry moving again, the decision was taken to evacuate the most distressed or ill passengers, transferring them to small Sierra Leonean government boats and taken back to land.

“A number of passengers were infirm, distressed or with young children and infants and there were cases of dehydration,” said Lt Tom Brunt, in charge of the small Royal Marines training team.
The commandos stayed with the ferry until all the needy had been safely transferred and waited until fuel turned up so the craft could resume its journey.

The 42 Commando team were in the country looking at potential sites for a larger package of training they will deliver over six weeks spanning March and April to help Sierra Leone forces enhance their border security.