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Vessel was carrying construction equipment, supplies

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Yokwe, Jan. 1, 2011) – In the Republic of Marshall Islands, an ocean rescue just before sunset on Saturday of 20 crews and passengers from a country’s supply vessel that sank earlier in the day confirmed the benefit of having safety gear on board. The Jeljelet Ae, a 90-foot landing craft, sank about 4 am on New Year's day as it was transporting heavy equipment and construction materials to Likiep Atoll, about 200 miles from Majuro.

A position broadcasting beacon triggered when the vessel sank gave Marshall Islands and United States Coast Guard search and rescue team accurate information on the location of the crew and passengers, said Alson Kelen, the chairman of the board of the Marshall Islands Shipping Corporation that operates the vessel on Saturday. The ship also had life rafts and life jackets on board, Kelen said.

Details were still sketchy as the open ocean rescue of the 20-men in a large life raft was made late Saturday near the sparsely populated atoll of Aur, about 90 miles north of Majuro.

Kelen and Wally Milne, the manager of the Marshall Islands Shipping Corporation, traveling in a fast sports fishing boat, were first to reach the life raft with the aid of an Air Marshall Islands plane that spotted the missing men floating in a large life raft about 10 hours after the vessel went down.

A U.S. Coast Guard C-130 search plane assisted in the rescue operation by providing aerial assistance, said U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Eric Watnik.

The group was reportedly transferred from the small sports fishing vessel to the Marshall Islands search and rescue vessel Lomor for transport back to Majuro.

The vessel that sank is one of four operated by the Marshall Islands Shipping Corporation to service dozens of remote islands scattered across about 500,000 square miles of ocean area in the western Pacific about 2,200 miles southwest of Hawaii. Kelen has said repeatedly over the past two years that all of the aging vessels in the company's fleet urgently need to be dry-docked for major overhauls but the government has not provided the money requested for the maintenance.

Losses to two construction companies whose heavy equipment and construction materials sank with the Jeljelet Ae are estimated o be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Kenneth Kramer, operations manager for Majuro-based Pacific International Inc., said Saturday his company had a 966 loader on board that he valued at US$100,000 and tens of thousands of dollars in sand, rocks, cement, plumbing and electrical equipment that was to be used for building an elementary school on Likiep Atoll was lost.

Following two recent search and rescue efforts in the Marshall Islands in which passengers of small boats had no safety equipment aboard and all drowned, the successful rescue of the Jeljelet Ae crew and passengers was swiftly accomplished with the aid of emergency safety equipment.


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