By Griffin Swartzell | Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs, 821st Air Base Group
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — Contractors stationed at Thule Air Base, Greenland, responded to a distress call from a commercial ship Monday, Aug. 3, saving all six members of its crew before towing the ship to port at Thule for repairs.
At about noon local time, a Royal Danish Air Force plane that had taken off from Thule picked up the distress call approximately 50 kilometers south and relayed it back to base. The ship’s crew reported the vessel had a leak and was taking on water faster than the onboard pumps could remove it.
Col. David Hanson, Thule AB installation commander, greenlit contractors from Vectrus Services to take Thule’s tugboat, “Rising Star,” to provide support for the ship and its crew.
“The rapid efforts and teamwork of the 821st Air Base Group, Vectrus Services, the Royal Danish Air Force, Joint Arctic Command and the Joint Rescue Coordination Center were instrumental in saving lives today,” Hanson said. “This was an absolute international team effort.”
The ship, a 75-foot commercial tour boat was carrying Greenland nationals who were offering carpentry services to remote villages along Greenland’s coast. The night prior, the crew noticed a leak in the engine room, said Casper Jensen, Vectrus Services’ civilian operations manager at Thule. Onboard pumps were unable to remove water faster than it was coming in, so the crew sent out a distress signal, not knowing if anyone would be able to respond.
“Greenland is a big area, and the waters around Greenland are even bigger,” Hanson said. “If that aircraft wouldn’t have been flying overhead, who knows who would have received that distress call?”
Through that RDAF aircraft, the crew of the “Rising Star,” the Air Force’s only tugboat, were in touch with the in-distress crew until they arrived at about 2 p.m. The weather was rough, with Jensen reporting two-meter waves as the tugboat crew positioned themselves alongside the ship.
“[It was] like a washing machine,” Jensen said.
At first, “Rising Star” provided pumps and generators to pump water from the ship more quickly. But half an hour into pumping, the commercial ship’s main engine died, leaving its crew without power or navigation capabilities. At that point, it became necessary to tow the boat back to Thule.
“[We had to sail at] slow speed for the first three hours because of the rough seas, until we got inside the bay,” Jensen said.
By the time the “Rising Star” and the commercial ship were safely at Thule, it was 9 p.m. Vectrus Services’ contractors have provided fuel and electrician support to get the ship back into good repair.
In addition to the vital missile warning, space situational awareness and satellite command and control missions supported at Thule AB, the 821st ABG there also offers emergency medical care to area Greenlanders through a partnership agreement with the Danish government. Thule AB is located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle where it provides an important view of the northern hemisphere in order to maintain the safe and responsible use of space.