High-tech rescue boat to service Lower Lakes from Milang base

Ready for Action: Freemasons SA/NT Deputy Grand Master Malcolm Schluter inspects new vessel Freemason with MMSARS Commodore Nick Wotton. Photo: Supplied.

Ready for Action: Freemasons SA/NT Deputy Grand Master Malcolm Schluter inspects new vessel Freemason with MMSARS Commodore Nick Wotton. Photo: Supplied.

Rescue capabilities and emergency response times on the Lower Lakes will be dramatically improved with the launch of a new, high-tech rescue vessel to be located at Milang.

The vessel will be operated by the Milang Marine Search & Rescue Squadron (MMSARS) and was funded through a donation of more than $300,000 by Masonic Charities.

Delivery of the purpose-built vessel the 'Freemason', will allow MMSARS to quickly and reliably respond to incidents on Lake Alexandrina rather than waiting for assistance to arrive from Victor Harbor or Goolwa, as was previously the case.

This follows the recent approval of the Alexandrina Council for MMSARS to take control of the lease of the Milang Pump House, with plans now in the works to construct a purpose-built boat shed at the site to house the Freemason.

Based on the water's edge, the vessel will be equipped to launch rapidly for lake emergencies and will be on-call for SA Police's Water Operations Unit and the Victor Harbor-Goolwa Sea Rescue Squadron.

Delivered ahead of the October long weekend, which marks the start of the boating season in South Australia, the 7.5 metre plumb bow vessel was built by Lonsdale-based Nautic Star, and is fitted with state-of-the-art search and rescue equipment.

Previously, the only rescue vessel located on Lake Alexandrina was the 37-year-old 'Etona', which could not be safely operated in severe weather.

Masonic Charities - the major philanthropic arm of Freemasonry in SA and the NT - contributed a total of $312,200 to the cause, with $190,000 dedicated to the purchase of the boat, with the remainder to be used on the construction of boat shed facilities at Milang.

Grand Master of Freemasons SA/NT Neil Jensen, said it was important Lake Alexandrina had a reliable marine safety service.

"Almost 1000 people either died, or almost died, in fatal and non-fatal drowning incidents in Australia last year; an increase in excess of 10 percent from the previous year," Dr Jensen said.

"This is what motivates the Freemasons to help to address a need of the community, in the area of the largest freshwater lake in the southern hemisphere."

MMSARS is a recently formed organisation that held its first committee meeting in June 2020, after members of the Milang Regatta Club identified a need for greater marine search and rescue services on Lake Alexandrina.

MMSARS Commodore Nick Wotton thanked Masonic Charities for their donation, which he described as a "genuine life saver".

"There is no doubt that having a boat of this calibre with state-of-the-art search and rescue equipment on board based at Milang, being able to reach people found in distress in Lake Alexandrina within half or a third of the time that rescue craft coming from Goolwa would, will be a game changer and a genuine life saver," Mr Wotton said.

"Search and rescue is our primary focus. The lake has seen many fatalities and near fatalities involving even the most prepared and experienced users, including Scout groups, fishermen and sailors."

Mr Wotton said delivery of the new rescue boat was the culmination of a two-year project.

"Crewed by local, highly trained rescue boat operators that can launch the vessel within minutes following a request, the Freemason will play a vital role servicing various needs in the vast Lower Lakes and Coorong region, from actual on call safety-of-life rescue services through to a variety of on-water community support activities," he said.

Southern Fishermen's Association chairman Garry Hera-Singh has been pushing for increased rescue services in the region, following the death of a Tailem Bend fisherman in the Coorong last year.

"I'm continually amazed and surprised, particularly over the last 40 years, at the number of boating accidents that have been down at the Lower Lakes and Coorong area," Mr Hera-Singh said.

"The benefits of this vessel and her capabilities will be felt by all those who use the lake and surrounding waterways, giving not just lake users but the entire community reassurance that should anyone ever need rescuing or assistance in any way, Freemason will be there."

Freemasons' Deputy Grand Master Malcolm Schluter said Masonic Charities was proud to be working closely with the Milang community and the vibrant Rescue Squadron committee.

"The rescue boat will provide a much-needed facility not only in the local area, but for the waters well beyond Milang," Mr Schluter said.

Masonic Charities Chairman John Behenna said that, "providing significant assistance in support of a critical piece of marine infrastructure for the Lower Lakes region which will save lives, is for me, a prime example of Masonic benevolence assisting our community".

The Freemason will be officially christened by South Australian Governor Hieu Van Le at the official launch of the Milang Marine Search & Rescue Squadron during a ceremony to be attended by Premier Steven Marshall and Masonic Charities representatives at the City Motor Group showroom at Mile End from 2pm on Sunday, September 20.