The couple rescued after their keel fell off - and the liferaft kit that could have left them for dead


Have you ever wondered what’s in the sealed emergency pack of your liferaft? Probably not. You might think, as I did, that if the worst happened you’d cut loose with an EPIRB and a carefully prepared grab bag.

That’s why Pierpaolo Mori’s (right) and Libi Belozerzki’s story is so disturbing. I talked to them both last week.

They were sailing a 54ft performance cruiser from the Maldives to the Gulf of Aden last month (they did the ARC in 2005 and were on their way home to Italy at the end of a circumnavigation) when the keel fastenings gave way. According to Libi, who was on watch at the time, the yacht inverted “in less than half a minute.”

They inflated the liferaft but conditions were so rough they could not stay tied to the yacht. They’d had no time to send out a Mayday, no time to grab a VHF or any emergency items. They let go and drifted away in the dark with nothing more than the clothes they’d been wearing – in Pierpaolo’s case, a pair of shorts.

They drifted for nine days before being picked up by a Belgian tug on 3 October, and survived by eating birds and a sea turtle.

But, leaving aside the keel failure for now, the really shocking part of this was the pathetic quality of the emergency pack. Inside the 8-man raft were 12 litres of water, a broken knife, a torch that was not waterproof, a first aid kit contaminated by water and mould, a flare pack that, once opened, got wet and half the flares failed to work, and fishing equipment with a tiny 1/2cm hook which meant that, despite seeing many fish underneath the raft, they were unable to catch any.

The drogue broke on the first night, the liferaft leaked and continually lost air, and with no radar reflector to help, eight ships passed by without spotting them, one as close as 200m.

“These are little things that can make a difference between life and death,” Libi told me, “and every time I think about it, it makes me angry.”

Their story truly is a must-read, as is our in-depth investigation into keel failures in the January issue. Don’t miss it.