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A waterproof phone. Something so simple was the method of survival for seven men in a tragic accident when their boat capsized, trapping them in an air bubble in their chartered fishing vessel and with no way to call for help except for a cheap, military-grade durable waterproof phone.
The survival story of these seven men was a mix of luck and rescue in the tragic occurrence as the 15 other remaining members were killed during the collision on December 5 in waters just off the coast of Incheon, a city in South Korea’s north.
The men were headed off the South Korean coast on a fishing trip when their 9.77-tonne vessel collided with a large commercial oil tanker and capsized, effectively turning the boat over and trapping the men in an air pocket inside the overturned boat.
There was no way for the men to call for help and they were quickly running out of oxygen. While most of the men’s phones were waterlogged and unusable, one of the men had a waterproof phone and was to contact search and rescue services and share their location.
According to one of the men, they were going on one of their regular fishing charter vessel activities to do deep sea fishing trips. The only difference for the friends this time, is that nine minutes after they left the port, an oil tanker vessel, en route to the port, barged the fishing vessel with enough force to cause the boat to capsize.
When the vessel capsized and rolled over, the seven survivors were in the wheelhouse of the fishing vessel when the accident occurred. Due to the boat’s fiberglass buoyancy, it didn’t sink but was largely submerged underwater. The pocket of air, which was in the room where the men were, did not completely fill with water. This gave them a chance to have a breathable, but a very limited source of oxygen as they had just enough room for their heads as they were pressed to the walling of the boat, gasping for air.
As the men were trapped in the pocket, and were slowly running out of oxygen, their ordeal was spent finding a way to call for help, until nine-minutes later, one of the men realized his phone was waterproof and was still working, unlike the others which had become waterlogged and inoperable.
After quickly calling police, the call for help was also made with a screenshot of their map to signify their location. As the boat was almost fully submerged, its visibility was limited to only a small section of it bobbing in the water.
The coast guard found the boat almost two hours after the event occurred, which has raised queries by some agencies as to why the response crews took so much time to respond and if other survivors could have been found in that time.
When the coast guard did arrive, the men said that they were using the very last of their air supply to scream for help.
While the event was labeled to be an accident, the tanker’s captain was faced with negligence charges as a result of not taking enough actions to avoid a collision with the fishing vessel.
The phone was from manufacturer Kyocera, a simple and cheap mobile phone made for extreme environments and has a protective waterproof housing which lasts for up to 30 minutes in up to six feet of water.
According to the phone’s manufacturers, it is designed to meet military standards as being a waterproof phone capable of being used in any environment. Some of its features, listed on the manufacturer’s site, are:
I have never used this phone before, so cannot make a personal comment on its use, but what I have seen is that most of the reviews are in favor of its high-durability and great strength. The major drawback is that the waterproof phone is not ‘good looking’ as it is a cheap, industrial strength phone, sacrificing aesthetic appeal for reliability.
I am personally not going to draw any speculation on the actual occurring’s of this event, however, I was unable to locate any reference to an EPIRB or any other marine GPS safety beacon being used as a method of signaling for help.
In some countries, this is mandatory for boat owners, and for a charter vessel, operating a commercial business (tourism and entertainment) on the water, I would expect their safety requirements to be held at a higher standard.
There were nowhere in any of the reports I had found about this issue, however it is a crucial part of marine preparedness to have the essentials of a GPS safety locator beacon that is registered to the boat, so as to assist emergency services with locating the boat, and be able to respond effectively and in a small window of time, when a maritime accident occurs.
Luckily, for these men, a simple device such as a waterproof phone meant the difference between life and death, and for these phones, which for most of the models, are less than USD$100, they are an amazing safety device.