February 2021 | 908 words | 3-minute read
It is a cry that not only strikes fear in the hearts of sailors around the world, but also galvanises them into action. From the moment the call goes out, it becomes a race against time, as the crew battle against the vagaries of storm and sea to save a fellow human before it is too late.
It was just such a rescue that was mounted by the captain and crew of the Tata NYK vessel, the 58,100-dwt Sagar Shakti (Strength of the Sea), on October 18, 2020. The Singapore-based Tata NYK is a dry bulk joint venture between Tata Steel and Japan’s NYK Line.
It was early afternoon on October 16. An Indonesian ship, the KLM Hikmah Bahari, was on an Indonesian coastal trip when it found itself overwhelmed by massive waves.
A small wooden vessel, the Hikmah Bahari was manned by six sailors, including the captain. Having sailed from the Port of Teratai, Berau, it was on its way to Port Bitung with 700 tonnes of palm oil kernels in its cargo hold when a storm struck.
Overwhelmed by stormy winds and the volatile waves, the ship fought hard to stay upright, but it was a losing battle as the captain and the five-member crew tried hard to pump out the water using the bilge pump.
Tense moments followed, and they had to act quickly or else they would die. As soon as they realised that their precious ship was going down, they quickly got on to a raft made of plastic drums and wood, that were on the ship, and jumped overboard. They also managed to get hold of their documents and salvage a few provisions that would have to stretch for as long as possible.
Longest 48 hours
There they were, adrift on the sea, in the Berau Strait, their makeshift raft standing between them and probable death. Gradually the storm subsided but by then they had already spent 48 long hours on their raft, staring at the never-ending expanse of water.
During that time, several ships passed by. Each time, hope awakened, the men waved, wild in their desperation to catch the attention of someone on board. But none of the ships came to their aid. As each ship receded further into the horizon, the six men, thoroughly fatigued and having exhausted their provisions, were on the verge of despair.
Captain Venkatamohan, skipper of the Sagar Shakti, says, “Fortunately, the weather subsided a day before they were rescued. The temperature of the sea water was around 28o C.”
Rescued at last
The navigating officer and the lookout man on duty on the Sagar Shakti have the satisfaction of a job well done. Their vigilance and the prompt action that followed was instrumental in saving the lives of the six seamen.
Spotting the distressed persons on the raft, the two men immediately alerted the master, Captain Venkatamohan.
As the alarm was sounded across the ship, the crew swung into action, in keeping with the standard operating procedure defined by the SOLAS Convention for handling distress situations at sea. The captain put out a call to Tata NYK, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, and the Joint Rescue Coordination Command Centre at Jakarta informing them of the sighting of distressed persons in the open waters and about the decision to undertake a rescue operation to save them.
As per the instructions issued by these organisations, the crew followed the manoeuvres recommended by the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue manual to approach the distressed crewmen of the Hikmah Bahari.
Warm and safe
The rescued men were given prompt medical attention, nutritious food and clean clothes.
Tata NYK’s Shipmanagers, Fleetship Management, reached out to their pool of multinational officers to establish communication with the rescued sailors. An Indonesian master, Captain Nazir, who is stationed ashore, acted as an interpreter via telephone. He spoke to the captain of the Hikmah Bahari, Captain Suradi, and assured him that he and his crew were in safe hands.
In order to rescue the seamen, the Sagar Shakti had to deviate from its course. Later, the ship reached its destination port of Samarinda, in eastern Borneo, where local authorities checked the health of the seamen and escorted them out of the ship to be repatriated to their homes.
This is not the first time that mariners of Tata NYK have had to face such a situation. Over the years, they have been involved in several rescue missions, going out of their way in response to the faintest SOS call.
The act of rescue has generated tremendous goodwill for Tata NYK within the community in Indonesia. In his congratulatory letter to Captain Venkatamohan and his crew, Amitabh Panda, MD of Tata NYK, articulated the feelings of the company and the Tata group when he said, “I am convinced you have made a huge difference to the family and lives of the rescued individuals — and there is no bigger act of compassion and heroism than what we have done by saving precious lives. I look forward to a long association with this excellent set of motivated and compassionate seafarers in the years ahead.”