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By Kim Arlington

June 5 2003

SYDNEY, June 5 AAP - The ambitious night-time rescue of two British rowers stranded in the middle of the Indian Ocean was carried off without a hitch,the Australian Navy said today.

Early today the frigate HMAS Newcastle rescued Rob Abernethy, 31, and Mike Noel-Smith, 45, more than 2,400km off the West Australian coast.

The men were attempting to row across the Indian Ocean but became stranded when their seven-metre boat, the Transventure, was damaged in heavy seas.

Mr Noel-Smith was also in need of urgent medical attention after suffering a head injury.

The warship was on routine patrol near the Cocos Islands when it was diverted two days ago.

The ship's helicopter located the boat about 8pm (AEST) yesterday and the ship arrived about 2.20am to rescue the men using inflatable boats.

The Navy's Deputy Maritime Commander, Commodore Nigel Perry, today praised the Newcastle's 220 crew members.

"The ship's company performed very well ... it was a full team effort from the ship," he told AAP today.

"Things went pretty much according to script."

The men were "close to exhaustion" and "certainly very pleased to be rescued", he said.

Commodore Perry said it was the fifth time in recent years the Navy had rescued ocean adventurers in distress, but would not comment on whether the adventurers were irresponsible.

"Our role in this is to rescue two people that sent out a mayday call," he said.

"It's within Australia's area of search-and-rescue responsibility so we're obliged to go and rescue them."

He said the rescue had not diverted the Newcastle from important operations and gave the ship's crew valuable experience.

"The ship will have got some benefit from doing the actual search and rescue ... practising their mariner skills."

Commodore Perry added that Mr Noel-Smith and Mr Abernethy had prepared well for their "pretty adventurous trip", with a satellite telephone, global positioning system, and flares on board.

The Newcastle's commanding officer, Captain Gerry Christian, was resting after the overnight rescue but said in a statement he was pleased to have assisted.

"I'm proud of my ship's company and the professionalism and care they demonstrated to ensure the safe rescue of the ocean rowers," he said.

The Newcastle will arrive in Fremantle on Monday.

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