Wightlink Ferries seafarer Stephen Chamberlain received a Skill and Gallantry Award in October 2018 from Shipwrecked Mariners' Society president Sir George Zambellas – just a few days after being awarded the Merchant Navy Medal for Meritorious Service.
Both awards were in recognition of his 'quick thinking, determination and exceptional bravery' in entering the freezing waters of Portsmouth harbour to save the life of a member of the public.
At approximately 23.00 hrs on 3 February this year, Mr Chamberlain and his colleagues were carrying out maintenance duties on the car deck of the St Clare in Camber Dock, in preparation for the midnight sailing to the Isle of Wight. A cry went up that a man had been spotted in the water – probably after falling in from the quayside – and the St Clare crew alerted the emergency services while throwing the man a life ring.
However, he seemed too cold and shocked to reach the ring, and Mr Chamberlain realised he was likely to slip under the water and drown before a rescue boat could arrive. 'I've always been a strong swimmer,' he told the Telegraph, 'and I knew I needed to act straight away or we could lose him. I took my coat off and let myself down about four or five metres into the water, swam over and helped him get the ring over his head and shoulders.'
The seafarer's actions bought the man some time until a launch could reach them both and pull the casualty from the water. The man was taken to hospital with hypothermia and subsequently made a full recovery.
Did Mr Chamberlain never feel concerned for his own safety, or that he might also end up needing to be rescued? 'No, because everyone else was there,' he explains. 'I knew my colleagues were watching over me from the ship, and that the launch was on its way. And I drew confidence from all the years of swimming I did when I was growing up on the Naval base in Hong Kong – it was just part of our lives there to go to the pool every day.'
Having gained this recognition from the maritime community, the seafarer is considering whether the awards could mark a turning point in his career, spurring him on to further achievement in the Merchant Navy by embarking on rating-to-officer training. But for now he is just waiting for the excitement to die down so he can go back on duty for another run of night shifts.