Northam man's part in boat people rescue

A Northam merchant seaman who emigrated to Australia has been speaking about his part in a dramatic rescue after a fishing boat full of asylum seekers exploded into flames.

A Northam merchant seaman who emigrated to Australia has been speaking about his part in a dramatic rescue after a fishing boat full of asylum seekers exploded into flames.

Ian Lamey and his crewmates aboard the Front Puffin sprang into action to turn their ship into a floating hospital to receive almost three dozen horrifically burned people following the disaster.

It was a normal day in April for Ian and his colleagues on the oil field vessel off the Western Australia coast, until the alarm sounded with news the navy ship HMAS Childers was bring 34 severely injured casualties to them following the explosion, which had killed some and injured dozens more.

The crew quickly organised, dividing into teams to meet the approaching influx of casualties, serve as triage units and act as stretcher bearers.

"We knocked up a big makeshift hospital as quickly as we could," said Ian, who moved to Australia with his family 10 years ago.

He is still well known in Northam and was a keen former player at the Royal North Devon Golf Club in Westward Ho! and still returns to North Devon to see family and friends every couple of years.

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"We made tables from drums and planks to keep the supplies on. I had to get all the drips set up and the injured were stretchered in to us."

The stream of horrifically wounded kept on coming and the crew had to put aside their own fatigue and feelings to ensure their injuries were treated and they were as comfortable as possible.

"We had two naval nurses, but there were too many for them to handle on their own," continued Ian.

"I helped wrap the burns in Gladwrap - that was my role, caring. Some of them were in a really bad way and screaming out for water. They had horrific wounds."

The first helicopters from the mainland, carrying doctors and nurses, arrived four hours after the navy vessel had delivered its patients.

The horror faded to numb fatigue as the crew - many of whom had been on shift for the past 12 hours - worked to load the casualties onto the helicopters.

It was particularly hard going for Ian, who was actually working his first shift back on board after breaking both legs mustering sheep!

The rigours and trauma of the situation have had a lasting effect on the crew, several of whom suffered sleepless nights following their rescue work and their company provided them with counselling to help them cope.

They received official recognition in Darwin in April by Australian Customs and Border Protection, Northern Command for their role in rescuing the injured asylum seekers.

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