Sinking Of Saudi - A Drama In Real Life
Sinking Of Saudi - A Drama In Real Life
It was 25th June 2001 at 10.00 PM. We had finished dinner and were talking about the upcoming TV show - Kaun Banega crorepati which was to be hosted by Amitabh Bachchan. My father is the captain of the ship and in my opinion, leads a comfortable life. When on the ship, his word is the law and he never has to work. When he comes home, he says he is on leave and wants to relax. So during the course of the conversation, I asked him how is it that he is always enjoying a luxurious life and here I am, leading a college student's tough life. With so many studies to do, I hardly have time for myself alone. My father closed his eyes for a moment, gave me a smile, and said, " 27 years ago, my boy, at this moment I was swimming in the deep waters of the Arabian sea, struggling for my life. You have only seen me leading a comfortable life but today I will tell you how I have gone through the adventures to get where I am! "
Thus he began his story - just like Sindbad the sailor told his story to Hindbad. "I joined my first ship "Saudi" as a deck cadet when I was 16 years old. She was a passenger cum cargo ship and used to ply in the Arabian sea. She started her last voyage from Aqaba, Jordan for Cochin with fertilizer cargo in mid-June, 1973. She had a total crew of 97 as we had carried passengers and we had a large staff of stewards on board. The ship was loaded fully and we had trouble closing the cargo compartments.
The sailing in the Red sea was peaceful. Every day I was sent to check the cargo condition with other senior crew members. I used to also keep a navigation watch with a chief officer in the morning and evening 4 to 8 O'clock. On 25th June I went to the navigation bridge at 4.00 PM. We were passing Cape Guardfui of Somalia, situated on the tip of the African horn. We were just entering the open waters of the Arabian sea from the Gulf of Aden, which is protected from the southwest monsoon. As the ship left land protection and the deep waters of Arabian Sea, the sudden gust of strong wind caught the ship on one side, causing her to tilt. The sea was very rough with high waves. This caused the fertilizer cargo to shift, which in turn increased the ship's tilt. The chief officer asked me to inform the Captain, who in turn asked me to call the chief engineer to discuss the problem. He also asked me to call the Radio officer to man the radio. While I was running errands the ship's tilt was increasing steadily. There was a commotion on deck, with ship's crew and stewards running helter-skelter. I found some crew members had already jumped in the water, wearing a lifejacket. I wondered how we were going to pick up these on board in this rough weather. Captain asked me to get his lifejacket and advised me also to wear it. When I went to his cabin, his cabin door banged shut due to the ship's rolling motion, trapping me inside. I started screaming but my voice got drowned in the fierce howling of the wind. After some time our second officer came for my rescue and got me out.
By this time the ship had tilted by almost 30 degrees and it was impossible to stand without holding anything. The captain asked me to leave the ship. As I was young and not experienced, I was confused. Till then I had a naïve belief that soon matters would be under control and there was no danger to the ship. Now I found that I was on my own and had to fight for my survival.
I found people crying & praying aloud, running aimlessly. I also saw 2nd electrical officer and ship's doctor knocking on the door of the senior electrical officer, asking him to come out to prepare for abandoning ship. He replied from inside that he wanted to go down with the ship as that was his destiny. Eventually, they gave up and left in search of safety. That was the last time I saw them as both have been missing since then.
I then saw the chief engineer and the third officer standing on the officer's deck, wearing a lifejacket. As I went to join them, I slipped and fell in the water. As I was slipping I thought this is it and remembered the last line of the nursery rhyme - that is the end of Solomon Grandy. However, I was fortunate enough to fall without any injury. Later, I was to know that some others were not so fortunate and had broken their limbs before they were rescued. After I fell in water I saw a couple of crew members holding onto an old & discarded raft, floating nearby. I joined them along with our third officer, who in fact did not know how to swim. Later, we were joined by the chief officer, senior radio officer, and second engineer's wife.
The radio officer informed us that he had sent the S.O.S. signal on the ship's radio and we can expect help. The chief officer assured us that we were in the main shipping route and though we were drifting away from the Somalian coast, we could expect to be picked by any passing ship. The second engineer's wife was separated from her husband while leaving the ship and kept worrying if he was safe or not. Then I saw my beloved ship for the last time as her masts were almost touching water.
Slowly we formed a group of 9 survivors and met a carpenter, an old fireman, and a few more sailors. By this time the sun had already set and it was getting dark. We tied our rafts together and made a flotilla that would be easy to spot from searching aircraft. Later on, we saw one ship's lights passing close by. We all shouted ourselves hoarse, but we were obviously not heard as the ship went away. Tired & dejected, we settled down for the night, clinging onto the raft. We were unable to climb on top of the raft as the raft was being bashed around by huge waves and we kept falling in the sea. Large waves of 4 - 5 meters height were hitting at us regularly, washing over our heads. Slowly we perfected the technic of facing them. When we used to see a big wave approaching us, we used to hold our breath and duck under the waves to prevent getting lashed by the roaring sea. The third officer was vomiting frequently due to seasickness, which made me feel queasy. Thus we spent the night assuring and helping each other. One old fireman kept drifting away with the waves and we had to pull him back to safety. Strangely, I was not afraid of dying. I felt that since my mother had already expired and I was young and unmarried, nobody would grieve for me. My father & 3 brothers would get over my loss soon. I remembered the poetry - When I die what will remain, People will grieve for a short moment! I realized how wrong I was when I reached home.
In the morning we found a rubber raft which was a new addition to our life-saving equipment. We transferred ourselves in it. We found that it was equipped with distress signals and another survival kit. Now we were protected from the fury of the sea. Also, this raft had a tent-like cover, giving us protection from the sun. We formed the watch for keeping the lookout for passing ship. Finally, at about 11 O' clock, the carpenter shouted with excitement that he could see a ship far away. A cheer went up in the raft. The chief officer ordered me to fire the rocket flare.
After seeing the rocket flare, the ship came closer. We then fired a hand flare to direct her to us. The sea was still very rough, with 10 - 12 feet waves. We found that it was an American naval ship USS Jonas Ingram which had come to our rescue. The rescuers threw a rope at our raft and pulled us close. One by one we clambered on board using the nets. Some climbed aboard by nets. I was lifted up by an arm sling by two huge American sailors like a little doll. I lost my footing as the naval ship rolled. They thought that I was injured but I assured them that I was ok. Then I saw other survivors who had already been rescued. We all laughed and cried together, grateful to god for simply being alive.
The search for the remaining survivors continued the whole day. Finally, I found that out of 98 crew members, only 61 had been rescued. Out of the remaining 37, only 10 bodies had been found. The remaining 27 persons have been missing till now, presumably gone down with the ship. Many were injured and I was one of the few lucky ones to survive without any injury. I was also the youngest member of the ship's crew.
USS Jonas Ingram took us to Djibouti, French Somalian port. We were kept in a hotel until the formalities could be completed. Finally 5 days after the sinking of Saudi we reached home. All the formalities were waived for us as we walked out straight to the waiting lounge. I found the lounge and all entrances thronged with people who had come to receive us. My reception party was perhaps more than 100 persons. I was taken home as a VIP and was like a celebrity. This was first of the roses"
My father smiled and said, during the course of my life on the ship I have done all sorts of jobs, including cleaning toilets, washing decks, etc.
This adventure story gave me goose pimples all over and made me realize that behind every success there is a hardship, perseverance, and determination.