Research project saves lives on the high seas

Guam SAR Leeway Drift Research
Griffith student Ben Brushett (at right) in Guam with friends Art Allen from US Coast Guard and Lt. Victoria Futch from the US Coast Guard. (photo courtesy of Ben Brushett)

Griffith University is helping the US Coast Guard save lives through an Australian Research Council linkage project based on the Gold Coast.

Studies were undertaken to determine how different types of watercraft drift on the open ocean and this information is now being used to help the US Coast Guard plan and coordinate search and rescue (SAR) operations.

Ben Brushett, is currently undertaking PhD studies at Griffith University focussing on improving maritime SAR with the assistance of academic supervisor Charles Lemckert and industry partner and co supervisor Brian King from Asia-Pacific Applied Science Associates (APASA).

The Engineering Honours graduate was invited by Art Allen of the US Coast Guard to assist in a maritime search and rescue (SAR) research project aimed at increasing the ability to forecast the movement of objects adrift at sea.

The Leeway Drift field test

Ben travelled to the Chuuk Islands of Micronesia in 2012 and worked closely with US Coast Guard oceanographers as they conducted the leeway drift field test for their research aboard the USCG Cutter Sequoia.

“Tracking the drift of small watercraft on the open ocean is a difficult task. So leeway drift testing is a great way to understand how they will drift due to the effects of the wind, waves and ambient currents” said Ben.

“We were measuring the leeway drift, which is a boats drift relative to the wind in order to better pinpoint the location of different watercraft when potentially lost at sea.”

It just so happened that while Ben and the Coast Guard oceanographers were on board the USCG Cutter Sequoia, a report came in of two men missing in a small craft off the Chuuk Islands.

The researchers were able to offer assistance with the search and witness the positive benefits of their research collaborations when the two men were located in their boat and rescued.

Ben has now returned to the Gold Coast and has recently been informed that the US Coast guard have rescued more people through the research project.“Just a few weeks ago five men were lost at sea near the Chuuk Islands in a 19 foot fibreglass skiff, known as a Panga or Banana boat,” said Ben.

“They were missing for 5 days, before the US Coast Guard, using the leeway data collected during our research trip last year, found and rescued them.”

“It is great to be seeing the benefits of our research in action and getting the kind of results we were hoping for.”