Canadian navy saves Yemeni soldier after eruption

October 3rd, 2007  

Topic: Canadian navy saves Yemeni soldier after eruption

A Canadian navy ship rescued a Yemeni soldier Monday following a volcanic eruption on a small island in the Red Sea.

HMCS Toronto was part of a NATO fleet in the area that was called upon by the Yemeni government to help rescue its soldiers after the eruption began Sunday evening.

Yemeni officials asked the six-ship NATO fleet to help search for soldiers believed to have fled to sea after a volcano erupted on the Jabal al-Tair island -- an oval island about three kilometres across that is located about 140 kilometres off the Yemeni coast.

"We all launched small boats to go up close along the coast line to help search for survivors," Lt. Cmdr. Angus Topshee told CTV's Canada AM Monday from HMCS Toronto.

The six NATO ships searched for hours without success and were eventually told to stop by the Yemeni coast guard.

"Just as we were leaving the area, about six miles offshore, we discovered a survivor drifting in the water," said Topshee.

"The first one went aboard the American ship and then Toronto recovered another survivor."

The second survivor found was a 22-year-old private who had been in the water for about 20 hours, said Topshee.

"We were able to give him some food and water, get him on the phone to his family to let them know he was safe and then we let him sleep for a few hours," he said.

The soldier was being transferred back to the Yemeni coast guard, said Topshee.

HMCS Toronto also discovered the bodies of two deceased soldiers.
Four dead were also pulled from the Red Sea, officials said. Two people remain missing.

Navy spokesman Ken Allen, aboard the HMCS Toronto, described the volcanic eruption as "catastrophic."

The eruption collapsed part of the island and covered the rest with lava.
"The entire island is aglow with lava and magma as it pours down into the sea,'' Allan told The Canadian Press in an email Sunday evening.

"The lava is spewing hundreds of feet into the air, with the volcanic ash also (rising) a thousand feet (300 metres) in the air.''

The island does not have a settled population but includes military installations, and large cargo ships frequent nearby waters.

The Yemeni coast guard and navy had earlier evacuated 21 personnel from island base, Cmdr. Stuart Moors of the Canadian navy who was aboard the USS Bainbridge told The Associated Press.

But there were conflicting reports on the numbers.

Yemeni military officials said 47 people were evacuated from the base, including two with serious injuries, and were admitted to a military hospital in the port city of al-Hudiadah.

"We're still searching'' for the other two missing Yemenis, Moors said from the Bainbridge, which is based in Norfolk, Va., and is the flagship of the NATO fleet.

"As soon as we found these people, we offered to remain and assist. We have continued our search through the day and we're remaining in touch with Yemen authorities,'' he said.

It remains unclear whether the victims died from the eruption or drowning.
Jabal al-Tair -- which means "Bird Mountain'' -- is one of several volcanoes at the southern end of the Red Sea.

The island last saw an explosive eruption in 1883, according to the Washington-based Smithsonian Institute's Global Volcanism Program.

Yemen is a poor tribal Sunni Muslim country at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula.

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