The Council of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has endorsed the decision of a Panel of Judges that the 2009 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea should go to three nominees. U.S. citizens Maurice and Sophie Conti were nominated by New Zealand for the rescue of three crew members from the yacht Timella, which had grounded and then sunk off a remote South Pacific coral reef. The Contis are non-professional sailors who planned and executed the rescue while sailing with their family. AST2 Abram A. Heller of the U.S. Coast Guard was also nominated by the United States for single-handedly rescuing eight crew members of the foundered F/V Alaska Ranger in arctic weather conditions. AST2 Heller is a professional rescue swimmer who gave up his place in the rescue helicopter to enable five crew members to be taken to safety. He waited on a life raft with the other three people he had rescued for more than one hour for the return of the helicopter.
The Council also decided that four other nominees will receive Certificates of Commendation and 11 will receive Letters of Commendation. A total of 32 nominations from 12 IMO Member States and four non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in consultative status were received and considered by an Assessment Panel consisting of experts nominated by various NGOs. A Panel of Judges then met, under the chairmanship of the Council Chairman, with the participation of the Chairmen of IMO's Maritime Safety, Marine Environment Protection, Legal, Technical Cooperation, and Facilitation Committees.