The West

Shane Usher is lifted to safety aboard the carrier,

Three men stood steadfast on the rowing boat, oars braced in front of them, as if they stood a chance.

The 14m Avalon was drifting inexorably closer to the ammonia carrier and her crew, led by Victorian police officer Tim Spiteri, 36, needed a lucky break. And that is exactly what they got.

In the cabin, fellow Australian Shane Usher, 39, was nursing festering burns from a boiling water spill three days earlier on July 8.

The first plan was to load Mr Usher into a rescue basket and hoist him up on to the ship - options were scarce in the wild Indian Ocean, 3200km from WA.

"We almost came to grief but luckily one of the oars got wedged in part of the ship and broke," Mr Usher said.

"The way the oar broke, it got rid of some of our momentum and we actually managed to avoid the ship. But within a minute or two we were drifting backwards into the massive propellers."

After frantic radio exchanges, the Avalon passed within 5m of the propellers and the rescue attempt – coordinated by crisis response firm Global Rescue – was back to square one.

The captain of the 180m Nordic River then lowered a lifeboat and the two smaller vessels inched as close as their skippers dared.

"I squeezed under the side ropes and just leapt into the hatch of the orange lifeboat," Mr Usher said.

"There were six guys in there with me - five Filipino crew and an Indian officer.

"They had to hook cables back on to the lifeboat and that was the most dangerous part. There were very heavy steel hooks swinging through the air and we were smashing into the ship. A couple of the guys got hurt."

Mr Usher spent eight days in the ship's medical unit before being transferred to Nickol Bay Hospital in Karratha on Friday.

The other rowers resumed their world-first attempt to cross the Indian Ocean to Africa unassisted to raise $250,000 for Multiple Sclerosis Australia.

Mr Usher, a chemical engineer and Victorian rowing team selector, said he was disappointed to miss out after a month on the water.

But with a record-breaking Atlantic Ocean crossing planned for early next year, he was grateful he had lived to row another day.

"I'll probably be in contact with the crew of that carrier ship for the rest of my life," he said. "The second officer was looking after me and constantly corresponding with doctors and sending photos so he knew what to do.

"I felt so guilty seeing the pain and exhaustion on their faces when they hoisted me over the side of the ship, but they all just started cheering.

"It was quite special."

The West Australian

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