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Petty Officer Michael Kelly, a rescue swimmer with the United States Coast Guard, will receive the 2019 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea, for his courage, perseverance and skill in rescuing four survivors from a life raft, in extremely high winds and heavy seas.

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Petty Officer Michael Kelly, a rescue swimmer with the United States Coast Guard, will receive the 2019 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea, for his courage, perseverance and skill in rescuing four survivors from a life raft, in extremely high winds and heavy seas.

A panel of judges decided that the rescue merited the highest award. The decision was endorsed by the IMO Council at its 122nd session in London (15-19 July).

Petty Officer Michael W. Kelly, Aviation Survival Technician Second Class, Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, United States Coast Guard, was nominated by the United States of America for his part in the rescue operation which took place on 14 November 2018.

On that stormy day, the crew of the rescue helicopter CG6032 was directed to provide assistance to the sinking fishing vessel Aaron and Melissa II. The vessel's four crew members were abandoning ship in very severe weather conditions, 70 miles off the Coast of Portland, Maine, United States.

After taking off, the helicopter crew immediately encountered very strong turbulence and gusts up to 60 knots. Arriving on scene, the aircrew located a life raft, battered by raging seas.

AST2 Michael Kelly was immediately deployed into the cold water. Battling 20-foot waves and chasing the raft, which was constantly being blown away by 50-knot winds, he finally managed to reach the anchor line and pull himself to the life raft.

It was a critical situation with all four survivors suffering from hypothermia. Two were unable to swim, while the flooded raft was in danger of capsizing. With great strength and stamina, AST2 Michael Kelly pulled each survivor from the raft, one by one, swimming strongly through the storm to keep them afloat. Each was lifted into the swaying rescue basket to be hoisted to safety.

After each rescue, AST2 Kelly was forced to regain lost ground, as the heavy winds continued to push the raft further away. He fought through extreme weather conditions, as well as physical and mental exhaustion, to save the lives of four seafarers in distress.

The panel of judges agreed that AST2 Kelly demonstrated truly exceptional bravery and determination.

IMO Awards ceremony

The 2019 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea will be presented during the IMO Awards ceremony, to be held on 25 November 2019 at the IMO Headquarters in London.  

Of a total of 34 qualifying nominations, received from 16 Member States and four non‑governmental organizations in consultative status with IMO, a further four will receive Certificates of Commendation and eight will receive Letters of Commendation.

IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea

This annual award was established by IMO to provide international recognition for those who, at the risk of losing their own life, perform acts of exceptional bravery in attempting to save life at sea or in attempting to prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment. Such acts of bravery may also involve extraordinary skills in very difficult conditions or any other display of outstanding courage.

Nominations are scrutinized by an assessment panel made up of members of non‑governmental organizations in consultative status with IMO, under the chair of the Secretary-General. Subsequently, a panel of judges (made up of the Chairs of several IMO bodies) considers the recommendations of the Assessment Panel and selects the recipient.

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