Coxswain Mark Pollard with his crew. Left to right Carl Beardmore, Peter Wood, Dave Nicoll, David Proud, Andy Jenkin and Tom Bird. Photo: Simon Culliford

The 32 metre Galina was built as the refrigerated trawler Plamya in 1976 by the Avangard yard in Petrozavodsk in the former USSR and she operated as a coastal fishing vessel in the Baltic Sea. Renamed Liesma in 1995 and owned by a Latvian company, she was sold in August 2005 to Yager Ltd in Israel and renamed Galina. She set sail for Israel under the Georgian flag.

During this voyage, on Wednesday 2 November 2005, the Galina, with eight people on board, lost all power in storm force conditions 5 miles south east of Dodman Point and started drifting towards the coast with the danger of being driven ashore. This position was 11 miles east of Falmouth. Falmouth Coastguard tasked their Emergency Towing Vessel Anglian Princess to assist but as she was in Mounts Bay, it would take about three hours to arrive on scene. At 11.35pm, Falmouth Coastguard requested the launch of Falmouth’s all-weather lifeboat to stand by the stricken vessel, along with the Fowey Trent class all-weather lifeboat, and wait for the Anglian Princess to arrive.

Falmouth’s Severn class lifeboat Richard Cox Scott launched at 11.47pm with Coxswain Mark Pollard, Second Coxswain Peter Wood, Mechanic David Proud and Crewmen Dave Nicoll, Andrew Jenkin, Carl Beardmore and Tom Bird on board. This was 31 year old Mark Pollard’s first big shout since becoming coxswain in July of that year.

David Proud said: ‘That was the third time we had been called out in just over 24 hours and we had been out previously that night. I knew the forecast was pretty poor so I thought this was going to be a dirty night.’ Carl Beardmore said: ‘The conditions were the worst I had ever been in. We don’t often have to go out in conditions such as that and that was big seas.’

It was a dark night and the weather at that time was partly cloudy but with heavy showers. Visibility was good but reduced in the showers. After rounding Zone Point, the lifeboat was able to establish VHF communications with the Galina but dialogue with the Latvian crew was not easy because of language difficulties. However, it did allow the VHF direction finding equipment to give a bearing to the Galina and the lifeboat’s course was adjusted to intercept the casualty. Unfortunately, at this time, the radar was unable to identify the vessel due to the sea conditions so David Proud contacted the Galina and asked for a flare to be fired to confirm the ship’s position. The reply came back from the captain stating that they were not carrying flares but they did have a searchlight which was used to shine out to the west in the hope that the lifeboat crew would be able to pick it up. The light was seen briefly and the lifeboat’s course was adjusted accordingly. The Galina became visible on the radar when it was just over a mile away and Tom Bird and Carl Beardmore were sent to the lifeboat’s upper steering position to set up the searchlights and, once switched on and pointed towards the casualty’s position, they picked out the reflective strips on the vessel’s safety equipment.

Falmouth lifeboat arrived on scene at 12.27am and at this point, the coxswain moved from the safety of the wheelhouse to take up command from the exposed upper steering position. The conditions had not seemed too bad during the passage out but this changed when the lifeboat was turned into the weather. With the loss of the shelter given by The Lizard and with the searchlights illuminating the sea, it became clear that the Galina was at the mercy of gale force 8 gusting storm force 10 southwest winds. There was a 6-7 metre swell and wind driven three metre high breaking waves.

Mark Pollard said: ‘The Galina was beam onto the weather, completely blacked out with no power and at the mercy of the weather.’ At that time, he felt that the vessel was in no immediate danger but asked Dave Nicoll to continue plotting the casualty’s position on the chart and work out the rate of drift. His biggest concern was the fact that the Galina was constructed with saddle tanks along the length of the waterline which would make an approach to the side of the ship extremely difficult if the lifeboat had to take the crewmen off.

Coxswain Keith Stuart and his crew on the Fowey lifeboat Maurice and Joyce Hardy arrived on scene at 12.45am having experienced an uncomfortable 50 minute passage from Fowey. Also at this time, Falmouth Coastguard confirmed that the estimated time of arrival for the Anglian Princess was 2.30am. Shortly after this, it became apparent to both lifeboat coxswains that the Galina was drifting towards the shore at a rate which would leave precious little time to secure and establish a tow when the Anglian Princess arrived.

Mark Pollard said: ‘The best option we had at that time was for our lifeboat to establish a tow and hold it until the tug came. We’ve got slightly more power than the Fowey lifeboat.’

The Galina’s captain was contacted and asked to standby to receive a towline. He was also asked to ensure that his crew were wearing lifejackets because of the danger of them being swept overboard. The Fowey lifeboat was positioned downwind in case anyone did go into the water. The Falmouth lifeboat coxswain decided to make two or three practice runs to get a feel of the conditions close to the casualty. He said: ‘You had to have three sets of eyes. I had Tom Bird and Carl Beardmore on the upper steering position with spotlights, Tom illuminating the Galina and Carl illuminating for’ard. You couldn’t see what was coming towards you; all you could see was the tops of the breaking waves. It was a job holding the boat in position for the guys to get a heaving line up. I had to use 100% power just to manoeuvre the boat and hold it in station.’

The other four members of the lifeboat crew were on the aft deck. Dave Nicoll and Peter Wood had heaving lines ready to throw while Andy Jenkin and David Proud stood by ready to attach the towline if a successful throw was made. Andy Jenkin said: ‘Dave and Pete were trying their best to get the lines across but it was really hard to try and throw without falling over.’ The wind speed at this time was 52mph gusting 61mph.

Dave Nicoll said: ‘The wind was having a great effect on the heaving line and in fact the last throw which was the successful one, I actually threw it well up in the air so the wind took it over the boat.’
With the heaving line now on the Galina, the towline was attached, paid out and made secure. It was now 1.42am and Mark Pollard slowly applied power to pay out the full length of the towline which was then made fast on the lifeboat’s towing post. Once the Galina started moving to bring its head to sea, it was found that the strain was causing the rope to creak so a second towline was attached to the first to reduce the load. At 2.11am, with a safe tow now established, Falmouth lifeboat was able to tow the Galina southeast at 1 knot and await the arrival of the Anglian Princess.

On arrival, the Emergency Towing Vessel took up a position to windward of the Galina and used her search and working lights to illuminate the scene. Despite a request to let the towrope go, for some reason, the Galina’s crew seemed reluctant to do so. It was eventually released at 2.43am and in the difficult conditions, it took 15 minutes for Falmouth lifeboat to recover it.

Captain Peter Rimmer, master of the Anglian Princess, contacted Falmouth Coastguard at 3.35am to report that they had secured a tow and were heading for Falmouth. The Fowey lifeboat was released at 3.40am and Falmouth lifeboat was asked to remain as escort. However, four minutes later, the towline between the Anglian Princess and the Galina parted so the Fowey lifeboat was recalled to stand by. Despite the weather having worsened with violent storm force 11 winds, a tow was re-established and at 4.30am they were under way again for Falmouth with Falmouth lifeboat acting as escort. Fowey lifeboat was once again released to return to station. Falmouth lifeboat was finally released by the Coastguard at 5.12am and was back on her pontoon and ready for service at 7.00am.

Graham Pearce, who was Falmouth RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager at that time, said: ‘I am very proud of the way Coxswain Mark Pollard and his crew handled the situation. Mark should be congratulated for a job well done.’
Mark Pollard commented after the incident: ‘It was a testing situation and there was a point when we thought we might have to attempt to take the crew off the Galina. I’m glad to get the first difficult shout under my belt. It was a good demonstration of teamwork between the Coastguard and Fowey and Falmouth lifeboats.’

Mark was awarded the RNLI Bronze Medal for his fortitude, exemplary leadership and outstanding seamanship in the rescue of the Galina. The other members of the Falmouth lifeboat crew received Medal Service Certificates for their crucial part in this service and Fowey RNLI Coxswain Keith Stuart received a Chairman’s Framed Letter of Thanks in recognition of his valuable physical and moral support during the rescue. Captain Peter Rimmer received a framed Letter of Appreciation from the RNLI and Falmouth lifeboat crew presented the Anglian Princess with a framed photograph of the Severn class all-weather lifeboat Richard Cox Scott for their help that night.

Simon Pryce, RNLI Divisional Inspector summed up the incident: ‘This service was carried out on one of the wildest nights experienced along the coast for a number of years. During the crucial part of the rescue the lifeboat crews were subject to storm force 10 winds gusting to violent storm force 11.’
‘Coxswain Pollard handled the Falmouth lifeboat, which was working to its limits, in an exceptional manner. He had the skill and confidence to hold her in a hazardous position while his crew attempted to pass the tow.’

‘The presence of Fowey lifeboat, under the command of Coxswain Stuart was of great benefit to Coxswain Pollard. Coxswain Stuart not only provided a sounding board and an extra set of eyes, but, most importantly, a safety net had anything gone wrong or anyone fallen overboard from the Galina. Fowey lifeboat was uncomfortable – at one point it was seen to be completely airborne.’

The Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society awarded Mark Pollard the Lady Swaythling Trophy for his outstanding feat of seamanship for the Galina rescue. This was presented to Mark by Admiral of the Fleet Sir Julian Oswald GCB, the Society’s President.

The Galina in Falmouth. Photo: Simon Culliford
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The Galina was detained in Falmouth for a few months after the incident due to her condition but was eventually towed to Hadera in Israel. Photo: John Brownhill
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The Galina is now on display at the Atlit detention camp as part of a museum of illegal immigration. She represents the type of ship used to transport illegal immigrants prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.