Sea Dog and owner rescued by bulk ore carrier off Cape York Australia

Missy and her crew
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A hardened sea-dog called Missy and her cruising sailor owner have lost their uninsured boat home near Australia's Cape York when their yacht Empress III started taking water in a trip from Port Moresby in New Guinea to Cairns. Unable to stop the flow they were finally forced to abandon it. They had lived on the boat for six years which for Missy was her whole life. Another crew member was also rescued.

Rio Tinto rescue in process
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Heroes of the rescue were the Rio Tinto ore carrier RRM Piiramu and its crew, who went to the rescue of the three mariners while on their way to Weipa on the west coast of Cape York.

Thursday Island retiree and cruising sailor Peter Weston said he and Bruna McDowell from Cairns had ‘’lost everything’’ after abandoning the vessel, which ran into trouble just before dawn near Shelburne Bay on Wednesday, January 18.

Speaking to the Cairns Post from the safety of the deck of his rescue ship, the Rio Tinto carrier RTM Piiramu, Mr Weston said leaving the yacht had been a tough call, particularly as the reason for the voyage was to have the yacht insured in Cairns.

'It was a big decision to abandon ship, but it’s a dangerous place to be this time of year because there’s no wind,' he said, 'You can replace your material assets, but you can’t replace a life.'

Mr Weston said his six-year-old scottish fox terrier, Missy, was foremost in his mind as he and Bruna made their emergency escape from the sinking ship.

'She’s been living on board with me for six years, she loves it, and sleeps in the cockpit and snaps at the fish,' Mr Weston said. 'She was cold by the time they winched her onboard, but the crew were there with towels and blankets for us and I gave her a cuddle and she warmed up.'

Ironically, the pair were taking the 11.5-metre yacht Empress III from Thursday Island to Cairns to insure it when it started taking on water in a section of the Great Barrier Reef off near Shelburne Bay, around 450 km south of the tip of Cape York.

A Rio Tinto spokesperson said the Piiramu was en route to Weipa from Gladstone when it answered a mayday call from the yacht at 4.15am, and diverted 80km to rescue the two sailors and their dog.

'Captain Bhupinder Singh immediately diverted the RTM Piiramu and provided assistance to the distressed vessel, rescuing a male and a female crew member as well as their dog, Missy,' the spokesperson said.

'The rescued pair ... are being cared for by the crew of the RTM Piiramu and are expected to arrive in Weipa early Thursday morning [last week].'

Rio Tinto Marine chief operating officer Michael Harvey said the crew had done a great job coming to the rescue of the couple and their dog.

'We are very pleased that a Rio Tinto Marine vessel was nearby and able to assist and avert a potential tragedy.'

Maritime authorities were advised of the incident and the location of the stricken yacht, and have thanked the ship’s captain and crew for their professional and timely response.