Evacuation: Chief officer Antonios Ioannou was air evacuated from the Aegean Angel by US Coastguard to Bermuda in January 2011 after a rogue wave killed two crewmates and seriously injured him. *Photo supplied
Evacuation: Chief officer Antonios Ioannou was air evacuated from the Aegean Angel by US Coastguard to Bermuda in January 2011 after a rogue wave killed two crewmates and seriously injured him. *Photo supplied

Every year a string of stricken sailors and cruise passengers are brought into Bermuda for vital treatment.

These life-saving rescue operations to help the sick and critically injured can take place in perilous conditions at any time of the day or night.

But these ‘medevacs’ also bring in tens of thousands of dollars in revenue for the island on a yearly basis.

The average medevac sees the pilot boat, complete with Branch Pilot and on-call doctor, travel out to the diverted vessel at Five Fathom Hole off St David’s.

The patient is transferred onto the Pilot Boat either on a stretcher or by walking down a Jacob’s Ladder, depending on their injuries.

And they are then taken via ambulance to King Edward VII Hospital for treatment.

When a professional seaman is brought into Bermuda for treatment the initial costs of the Pilot Boat, Branch Pilot and ambulance charges will run into several thousand dollars.

Then there will also be the cost of private services such as port agent’s fees and hotel accommodation once they are released from hospital.

Usually cruise ship passengers will be accompanied by someone who will stay at a local hotel or guesthouse.

They will pay their own medical and accommodation costs and claim back under their personal insurance.

Anyone who is brought into Bermuda from a passing ship will also pay a departure tax to Government at the airport when
they leave.

Medical costs, especially for serious or life-threatening injuries, can send the final bill spiraling as high as $20,000 to $30,000.

Joe Simas, Vice President of Meyer Agencies, told the Bermuda Sun: “We would normally get an email from a passing ship or the ship’s owners to report the emergency.

“From there we mobilise the different parties that are involved and oversee process itself.

“The way it works is that the agent tends to pay for everything once the med-evac has started and is then reimbursed at a later date.

“There are a long line of expenses from the cost of the Pilot Boat, the Branch Pilot and the on call doctor to the medical fees and repatriation charges.

“Sometimes specialist nurses will accompany the sailors on their way home too which adds to the cost.

“And of course if someone needs to be air ambulances off the island that will cost another $20,000 to $30,000.”

Mr Simas who acts as agent to diverted ships in the majority of cases added: “We are talking maybe tens of thousands of dollars at least for a relatively serious medevac.”

Last year there were a total of 18 medico transfers from merchant ships into Bermuda, which included five from cruise ships.

While in 2011 there was also 18 medevacs, with four being from cruise ships.

So far this year there have been eight medico transfers, including two from cruise ships.

Fatal consequences

Although most medevacs pass off without incident, the rescue operations have had fatal consequences in the past.

In December 2001, just off St David’s, US parajumper Sgt Doug Eccleston drowned while rescuing a sick crewman off a Malaysian tanker.

Sgt Eccleston’s inflatable raft capsized after he had successfully treated a medical emergency.

Dr Henry Subair has been part of Meyer’s med-evac team for more than 15 years. And he has dealt with scores of different types of cases.

He told the Sun: “Sometimes it is a case of getting out of bed in the middle of the night to respond to the call.

“Over the years I have dealt with a huge range of conditions from abdominal pains, serious head injuries, second degree burns and I have been called upon to certify death.

“There have been some very interesting cases and I tend to continue to look after the patients after they have received any specialist treatment that they require.

“Most of the time it is very safe and I climb up the Jacob’s ladder and assess the patient on the ship.

“But there have been times in the past when the patient has had to be brought onto the Pilot Boat before I can see him.”