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Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Chavez, a search-and-rescue swimmer attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge, prepares to take part in the rescue of five Philippine fishermen.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Chavez, a search-and-rescue swimmer attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge, prepares to take part in the rescue of five Philippine fishermen. (Cody R. Babin/Courtesy U.S. Navy)
Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Chavez, a search-and-rescue swimmer attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge, prepares to take part in the rescue of five Philippine fishermen.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Chavez, a search-and-rescue swimmer attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge, prepares to take part in the rescue of five Philippine fishermen. (Cody R. Babin/Courtesy U.S. Navy)
Sailors attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge lower an inflatable boat that will be used to rescue five stranded Philippine fishermen. Blue Ridge is currently on patrol in the Indo-Asian Pacific region.
Sailors attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge lower an inflatable boat that will be used to rescue five stranded Philippine fishermen. Blue Ridge is currently on patrol in the Indo-Asian Pacific region. (Cody R. Babin/ Courtesy U.S. Navy)
U.S. sailors head to a boat carrying stranded Philippine fishermen. The sailors are attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge.
U.S. sailors head to a boat carrying stranded Philippine fishermen. The sailors are attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge. (Cody R. Babin/Courtesy U.S. Navy)
Sailors attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge speed toward a boat carrying five Philippine fishermen, who were stranded when their fishing boat suffered a mechanical problem.
Sailors attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge speed toward a boat carrying five Philippine fishermen, who were stranded when their fishing boat suffered a mechanical problem. (Cody R. Babin/Courtesy U.S. Navy)
Sailors from the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge prepare to check out a boat flying an orange flag -- an international symbol of distress. The effort resulted in the rescue of five Philippine fishermen.
Sailors from the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge prepare to check out a boat flying an orange flag -- an international symbol of distress. The effort resulted in the rescue of five Philippine fishermen. (Cody R. Babin/Courtesy U.S. Navy)
An orange flag, signaling distress, waves from a boat carrying stranded Philippine fishermen on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Sailors attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge rescued the five fishermen, whose boat had suffered a mechanical breakdown.
An orange flag, signaling distress, waves from a boat carrying stranded Philippine fishermen on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Sailors attached to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge rescued the five fishermen, whose boat had suffered a mechanical breakdown. (Cody R. Babin/Courtesy U.S. Navy)
Petty Officer 2nd Class Caitlin Clarke, attached to USS Blue Ridge, provides medical treatment for one of the fishermen rescued by U.S. sailors.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Caitlin Clarke, attached to USS Blue Ridge, provides medical treatment for one of the fishermen rescued by U.S. sailors. (Timothy Hale/Courtesy U.S. Navy)
Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Pilat, attached to USS Blue Ridge, attends to one of the fishermen stranded when their boat had mechanical problems.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Pilat, attached to USS Blue Ridge, attends to one of the fishermen stranded when their boat had mechanical problems. (Timothy Hale/Courtesy U.S. Navy)
Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Jimenez, attached to USS Blue Ridge, gives a medical check-up to a Philippine fisherman aboard the Blue Ridge. Five Philippine fishermen were adrift for three days before being rescued by U.S. sailors.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Jimenez, attached to USS Blue Ridge, gives a medical check-up to a Philippine fisherman aboard the Blue Ridge. Five Philippine fishermen were adrift for three days before being rescued by U.S. sailors. (Timothy Hale/Courtesy U.S. Navy)
Seaman Joseph Branch, attached to USS Blue Ridge, checks one of five Philippine fishermen who were rescued by U.S. sailors after their fishing boat had mechanical problems.
Seaman Joseph Branch, attached to USS Blue Ridge, checks one of five Philippine fishermen who were rescued by U.S. sailors after their fishing boat had mechanical problems. (Timothy Hale/U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Sailors aboard the USS Blue Ridge saved a Philippine fishing crew that had been adrift for days with no food and little water, crewmembers said Thursday.

The Japan-based 7th Fleet flagship was sailing in international waters near Taiwan’s southern coast on Wednesday afternoon when it encountered 8- to 10-foot waves and roughly 45 mph winds.

As the ship plowed its way through the seas, a bridge watchstander noticed a speck out in the water, commander Capt. Kyle Higgins told Stars and Stripes by phone.

Blue Ridge turned around, and crewmembers caught a glimpse of an orange flag — a recognized international symbol for distress — bounding between the swells.

As they looked closer, they saw a man waving a white T-shirt, while someone signaled with a flashlight.

Blue Ridge closed the distance and launched its rigid-hulled inflatable boat, or RHIB, to meet the adrift fishing boat. Blue Ridge hadn’t attempted any boat rescues recently, but it had practiced man-overboard rescues, which called for many of the same procedures.

“We practice this with regularity, with all the bridge teams,” Higgins said.

The sailors arrived at the fishing boat and found five Philippine nationals, none of whom spoke English. Fortunately, the Navy boat’s coxswain spoke Tagalog, allowing the crew to quickly assess the situation.

The fishing boat suffered a mechanical breakdown and got swept away from the crew’s fishing grounds, about 30 to 40 miles from the nearest shore. The men had been adrift for three days.

“They ran out of food first, and they were on the ragged edge of running out of water, so they were very grateful that we came by and picked them up,” Higgins said.

After security checks, the five men were transferred to a ship medical ward.

“The sun had beaten down on them,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Branch, a hospitalman-corpsman. “They had dehydration, fatigue and exhaustion, but no other major things to attend to.”

The fishermen received food and fresh sets of basic clothing. They will remain aboard the ship until Blue Ridge’s next scheduled port visit, Higgins said.

slavin.erik@stripes.com Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

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