Stranded British yachtsman rescued


BRITISH solo sailor Tony Bullimore was found alive early this morning, five days after capsizing in the freezing waters between Australia and the Antarctic.

Bullimore (56) managed to climb free from his upturned yacht after rescuers from a navy frigate knocked on its hull to see if he was still alive.

"HMAS Adelaide put down their rubber inflatable and knocked on the hull," said Mike Calway, a senior official at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. "He answered from inside and when they said could he come out, he said `No, I can't, I can't get out', but next thing he appeared. As far as we are aware he is in reasonable condition.

Bullimore's rescue capped a day of drama in the southern Indian Ocean. Hours earlier, Frenchman Thierry Dubois was winched to safety by a helicopter from the same frigate after four days drifting in a life raft in heavy seas.

Both men were reported to be in surprisingly good shape despite their ordeal. The pair were competing in the Vendee Globe round the world yacht race, which has justified its reputation as one of the world's most dangerous sporting events.

Another Frenchman in the same race, Rafael Dinelli, was rescued by the Australian navy the day after Christmas and a fourth competitor, Canada's Gerry Roufs, was said to have lost radio contact with race organisers yesterday.

Navy rescuers had been unable to determine whether Bullimore, who capsized on Sunday about 60 miles from where Dubois also overturned, was still alive in his boat.

But the crew of an Orion rescue plane circling over his yacht dropped a listening device into the water yesterday and reported hearing tapping sounds from inside the yacht's hull.

They also detected a weak signal from a small "personal locator beacon", suggesting that Bullimore could be alive against the odds.

The frigate HMAS Adelaide steamed to Bullimore's yacht after picking up Dubois and an oil tanker en route from Cape Town to Sydney was also diverted to the site.

Officials said one option had been for the tanker to winch Bullimore's yacht on to the deck of the tanker. In the event, there was no need for outside assistance.

"You have to keep a positive attitude. We always hoped we would find him, because if you think you are not going to get him, you lose your sharpness. But even so I am amazed," said Calway.

Defence Minister Ian McLachlan congratulated the defence forces on the spectacular rescue. "We're proud of them. There's no doubt that they've all done a marvellous job," he said.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has urged France to back efforts to impose new restrictions on round the world yacht races.

Sports Minister Warwick Smith wrote to his French counterpart, Guy Drut, raising concerns at the mounting cost of yacht rescues and seeking a joint approach to global race organisers.

"Without a review of race routes, Australia could be required to undertake more than its fair share of costly, time consuming rescue missions" Smith said in a statement.

He said Australian waters would see a surge in international yacht racing in the lead up to the 2000 Olympics with Sydney the destination. Smith's plea to France followed a letter from Drut congratulating Australia for its rescue efforts.

"I have no doubts about Australia's obligations under international conventions to rescue yachtsmen in difficulty," Smith said. "But these recent rescues, coupled with the rescue two years ago in similar circumstances of another French sailor, Isabelle Autissier, must call into question the organisation of such events.

"I would like to suggest that the yachtsmen be required to take a more northerly route. It is longer, I know, but the experts say it is also far safer."