A 24-year-old from Devon has become the youngest person to ever receive the Merchant Navy Medal, after a daring pitch-black rescue in the Caribbean.
Max Bingle, who was the third officer on the Sea Princess cruise ship at the time, will get the prestigious award alongside 19 other sailors, who have all been recognised for their “outstanding service and contribution to the sector”.
Mr Bingle was working on a world cruise, and was sailing near Curacao in the Caribbean when the ship received a distress call from the coastguard, saying there was a sunken vessel around 60 miles away from them with three men in danger.
“I was on the bridge with a senior officer when the call came through,” he told Sky News.
“It was a team effort, and we had to navigate to the vessel’s last known position. There was a tanker standing by, but it was unable to recover the life raft.
“There was a coastguard plane overhead directing us, and at around a mile away, we went down into the rescue boat… and dropped in to the water. We then sailed around three-quarters of a mile to the life raft to recover the men.
“It was pitch-black and a force-eight gale.”
Mr Bingle said he managed to get the men in to his rescue boat, and get them on-board the Sea Princess and into the medical centre.
“As sea farers we get the best training and every two weeks we have a drill and it gets repetitive, but when it happens – you’re grateful,” he added.
The whole ship, which had around 2,000 mainly Australian passengers onboard, had to be turned around to make the rescue. The ship docked in Curacao the next morning as planned, albeit six hours late.
Mr Bingle said that the award nomination came “out of the blue”, adding: “it happened a year ago and I still don’t know who nominated me!”
“The medal for me is enough – I was just doing my job and it is nice to be recognised.”
Robert Courts, Maritime Minister, said: “I am delighted to announce the recipients of this year’s Merchant Navy Medal. They have all gone beyond the call of duty to provide an invaluable service to our sector and our country.
“It’s a special honour to award the medal to Max, its youngest ever recipient. He showed incredible bravery in saving three fellow sailors from drowning in rough seas, and this award is a recognition of his incredible selflessness that night.”
Since his dramatic rescue, Mr Bingle has stayed on dry land and studied at college for his qualification to become second officer, and was due to start his new position over summer, before the pandemic put a stop to it.