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AUSTRALIA NAVY AIDS CAPSIZED YACHTERS.

Byline: Clyde H. Farnsworth The New York Times

Tony Bullimore, a British yachtsman entombed in his capsized sailboat in frigid waters between Australia and Antarctica, took a deep breath when he heard a heavy banging on the upturned hull and a voice outside.

Then he dived from the makeshift net hammock he had lashed to the inverted deck to keep himself above water in an air pocket and witnessed the miracle he had not dared hope for over the 80 hours since his keel broke in a storm in the Southern Ocean.

An Australian navy frigate had pulled alongside. An Orion P-3 search plane circled overhead and a couple of Australian sailors in wet suits on a life raft were peering over the battered hull of his 66-foot ketch.

``It was heaven, absolute heaven,'' the 56-year-old sailor said Thursday in the frigate's sick bay, where he was recovering from hypothermia, dehydration, frostbite and a severed finger.

The Australian navy and the Australian air force already had been responsible for the rescue of two other sailors, both Frenchmen, from the raging seas nearby. They too had foundered as they sailed in the Vendee Globe Challenge, a solo nonstop round-the-world yacht race.

Accounts of the rescues have captured headlines in Australia and Europe and even earned Australia some diplomatic benefits. Australian Foreign Ministry officials expressed surprise and delight at what they described as effusive praise by French President Jacques Chirac for the Australian efforts to save sailors in the French-organized race.

The gesture came after months of strain between the two countries over French nuclear testing. Australia had been a leading critic of France's six nuclear blasts in French Polynesia from September 1995 to last January.

Yet despite the diplomatic dividends, the mounting cost of sea rescues is a growing Australian concern. The opposition Labor Party wants organizers of yacht races to help foot the bills, which in the past two weeks alone have approached $200,000.

While also worried about the costs, government officials insist they have both a moral and a legal obligation to help those in distress. ``Whether it's bush fires or cyclones at sea, we just go out and do those things,'' said Defense Minister Ian McLachlan.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 12, 1997
Words:369
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