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Last Man Off by Matt Lewis

Last Man Off: A True Story of Disaster and Survival on the Antarctic Seas - Matt Lewis Thorne

Matt Lewis was one of 38 crew members aboard the South African fishing boat, the Sudur Havid. Lewis was on the fishing expedition as a scientific observer/marine biologist. The Sudur Havid's crew was fishing in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean when a major storm caused massive swells. Continuing to fish through the storm seemed foolish to Lewis. Lewis and several crew members were in the fish factory when the ship began taking on large amounts of water due to the massive waves swamping the starboard side. The pumps were not working and became clogged with debris. Alerting the captain and engineers, Lewis expected a quick response and imagined an emergency plan would be carried out by those in charge. But help was not to come from anyone. Lewis still believed the vessel could be saved. He could not have envisioned the horrific moments ahead for the Sudur Havid. She was going to sink. It was inevitable. Thinking quickly,  Lewis takes charge and tries to restore calm amongst the crew but they are all hopelessly unprepared for the disaster. In the end, only three life boats will be deployed.  Lewis watches, horrified, as two experienced engineers commandeer one of the lifeboats. They are the only two men inside the fourteen man lifeboat. Why would they do such a thing?  Perhaps they are taking the boat out to rescue those already in the water, Lewis thinks. Another raft contains fourteen more men. Matt Lewis helps all of his fellow mates as best he can, risking his life to ensure every soul is off of the sinking, doomed Sudur Havid. Lewis boards the final lifeboat but it has sustained damage from being knocked against the hull of the ship by the waves. The boat takes on water and the men are forced to sit in -1° water temperatures, waist deep, while trying to remain conscious. And then they wait for help to arrive. No flares, no radio, no beacons.  Time is quickly running out. It is impossible for a human to survive such frigid conditions. At this point, one can only hope for a miracle. 

 

This was a harrowing,  heartbreaking account of the traumatic events that befell the crew of the Sudur Havid in June of 1998. WHY did the captain, officers, and engineers ignore the plea for help? Why were proper emergency drills not practiced?  Why did those in charge behave as they did? Horrendous mistakes are made and most were completely avoidable. Necessary precautions were not taken to ensure the safety of those aboard. Absolutely tragic and sad.  Matt Lewis was a true hero. I couldn't put this book down. Wish it would've turned out differently.  Utterly senseless. 

 

Thanks to Penguin's First to Read program for allowing me to read this early galley copy.