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|23rd October 2008, 21:06||#62|
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Horror on High seas- Part 3
2100HRS – 2200HRS, 20TH MAY, 1999
A search party of 3 was formulated to search for the 2 missing passengers. The areas were divided and the men equipped with search lights and face masks were asked to look for the missing pax. They were to report their movement at every 5 meters to the bridge so that they can be traced back in case they were in any problem. Up on the bridge wing I could still see the tug shining its bright search light on the ships funnel and still throwing gallons of water on it. Was the smoke getting less or was it just that I could not see smoke in the dark background of the night sky. Well the smoke had reduced was confirmed by a few more officers who were also standing with me. Far in the dark we could see small lights bobbing up and down in the ocean, these were the lights of the life boats which had formed a small group. The life rafts had been tied up to the boats so that they didn’t drift far away. (The life rafts don’t have their own power). Things were getting better now, the fire seemed to be dieing down slowly with the smoke getting even lesser now, and all the passengers had disembarked the ship without any major casualties. There was a crew with major burn injuries on one of the life boats, but even he was given first aid treatment by the doctor by now. The doctor had to be transferred from one boat to another is a different story. The only major concern was the missing pax who hadn’t been found after an hour of thorough search of the whole ship. The search party had been called back by the captain by now; he didn’t want to risk three more lives in lower deck spaces which were in complete darkness and full of burning stench. These were inhospitable conditions where they were searching.
2200HRS – 2300HRS, 20TH MAY, 1999
With the fire no longer the enemy and the fate of the 2 missing pax unknown, things had started to settle down a bit on the bridge. Missing pax was not a worry any more as by now the fire was out and for sure we would be able to find them tomorrow when we would be towed away by the tug boat to the port of Penang. With the nerves calming down a bit suddenly hunger and exhaustion took over us. I was asked by Anand to go to the back deck of the ship and collect food from the bbq that was supposed to happen. I was made to carry the 2-way and was asked to keep in constant touch. Slowly I reached the back deck and found 2 unused garbage bags. I started to collect whatever I could in them. The tug boat was still spraying water all over the funnel and this had made the food wet and the deck was slippery. Thank God I had changed into my rubber shoes earlier. Slowly I made my way back to the bridge where all of us kind of enjoyed the meal that was cold and damp by now. The captain announced on the 2-way radio to all the boats/rafts afloat about the fire situation being under control now and how he had planned for the ship to be towed away to Penang. He also announced that the closest merchant vessel S.S. Venus, a Russian freighter was in the vicinity and would be there soon to rescue them and to take them to Penang. Once In Penang, The Sun Vista was safely docked, the passengers would be allowed to go to their cabins and retrieve there valuables. This definitely lightened the mood in the boat/rafts and few jokes were heard being made over the 2-way radio. The worst was over. Thank God we were all safe…or where we? What about the 2 missing pax?
2300HRS – 0000HRS, 20TH MAY, 1999
Back on the bridge there was nothing much to do but to wait for S.S Venus to arrive and rescue all the pax floating. One of the officers was co-coordinating with The Venus over his VHF radio. The Venus lights could be seen at a distance fast approaching towards us. Once close enough, the boats/rafts were directed towards Venus one by one for the passengers to start embarking the rescue ship. I requested the captain if I could go to my cabin to get my cell phone as I wanted to be the first one to call home from Penang and tell them about what had just happened. The Captain first relented but later agreed as my cabin was on the 5th Deck which was comparatively a safer place. Again the procedure of reporting every 5mnts was put in place. As I went down from the bridge I started to feel really scared. This was a ghost ship without any lights and not a single voice coming from anywhere. It was just darkness and burning smell everywhere. The heavy fire screen doors which were closed also slowed down my movement. Half way to my cabin I got really scared and wanted to turn around and go back to the safety of the bridge but somehow gathered courage to reach my cabin. Once there I took my cell phone and rushed back. I was in such a hurry to reach back to the bridge that I did not even bother to take anything else. This was the last time I would see my cabin.
0000HRS –0100HRS, 21st MAY, 1999
No sooner that I reached the bridge the commotion and frantic activity had started again. Did the fire start again? But no this time it was not the fire that was causing the problem, it was the water. The ship had started to list on its Starboard (right) side. A 3 degree list was noted a few minutes back which in 20 minutes had grown to a 20 degree list. That meant that now the ship was sucking in water and hence was loosing its balance. The water tight doors in the below decks had already been closed but the ships list continued to increase. This was the first time the thought of me being on a ship that was sinking and sinking rapidly crossed my mind. The captain ordered us to abandon the ship immediately. We had 10 minutes to do so before the ship would reach a 45 degrees list and after that getting of the ship would be literally impossible and we would have to jump in the ocean.
Anand told me he had to go to his cabin to collect some important stuff and his life jacket. He was lucky; his cabin was adjacent to the bridge. As soon as he mentioned life jacket, my heart skipped a beat, where was mine? It was definitely panic time again. I had to taken it off when we were told the worst was over and now I could not find it any more. Precious time was running, some of the staff had already gone down to the P deck and had started to climb down the monkey ladder to the life raft which was waiting for us by the ships side. I frantically looked around for a life jacket and luckily saw one lying on the deck just ahead of the bridge. There was no time to waste, a split second decision was taken to go and get the life jacket. It would waste precious minutes to get it but, even though I was a good swimmer still, it was better to have a life jacket on than not to have in case of any eventuality. The ship had listed more; this coupled with wet decks had made it more difficult to climb down the steps to the life jacket. I made it eventually and rushed back up to the bridge from the Port side which had gone considerably higher than the Starboard side. As I entered the bridge from the bridge wing I lost my balance and slipped. Due to the wet floors I slid all the way across the bridge from the Port side to the Starboard side bridge wing, only to be stopped by the railings. I had hurt my shoulder due to the impact on the railing. Surprisingly there was no pain; in fact I was more worried about not seeing anyone else on the ship. They had all left by then. Did they not even realize that I was still on the ship and taken the life boat with them? Did I have no hope now but to jump in the ocean?
With thoughts running fast in my mind I got up and started climbing down the P deck from where we had to climb down the ladder to the ship. I could see a solitary deck hand standing there. Oh Thank God, I was not alone, now even if I had to jump the ship in the ocean at least there were the 2 of us. As soon as he saw me, he quickly pointed down to the ladder and said you first; I will follow you and be quick. That meant the boat had waited for us. I started to climb down the monkey ladder, but it wasn’t easy. As the ship was listing towards us the ladder had started to sway in mid air instead of resting on the ship’s hull and getting a footing was getting difficult. On top of that my shoulder was hampering my movements. I was not being quick by any means. The deck hand that was following me down the ladder was much quicker and had started to step on my fingers with his boots. I did not want to loose my footing and fall in the sea at this stage so I shouted back to him to wait and luckily he understood and slowed down. We finally reached down the safety of the boat and could hear the others shouting abuses at me for delaying them. The engine of the boat was on but we still did not start to pull away. The ship was looking like a scary monster slowly falling on us, we had to move away fast or we would soon start to be sucked in the water rushing in the ship. I suddenly realized that the wait was for the Captain, he still had not come down the ship. No one knew where he went after informing us to evacuate the ship within 10 minutes. Had he decided to go down with the ships like in old times? We had no time left, we started to pull the boat away from the ship coming on to us, suddenly we saw the captain climbing down the monkey ladder and we were relieved. Later we came to know that he had gone to the radio room to send a signal that the ship is Not Under Control, just incase if the ship doesn’t sink fully.
0100HRS –0200HRS, 21st MAY, 1999
With all 19 of us on board, the boat started to slowly chug away from the ship which had a list of almost 45 degrees now. With 19 pax on the boat now the mystery of the 2 missing people was also solved. The 2 pax that were missing were the operator and the helper who were in the rescue boat all the time and were not accounted for. There was complete silence on the life boat, no one spoke a word and all were hooked to the watching the ship slowly slip down in the ocean. At about 200 meters away from the ship, the captain ordered the boat to stop. His exact words were “I want to see the last rights of my ship” His words did create some commotion in the life boat. Everyone thought we were too close to the sinking ship and could be sucked in. But no one dared to utter a word. He had been a great leader so far and it was basically because of his leadership and foresight that all 1104 of us had been saved.
The Tug boats search light were shinning through the dark focused directly on the sinking ship, we could hear the Captain of the tug boat repeatedly announce on the P.A system the coordinates of the sinking ship, for the benefit of the any un suspecting ships headed this way. The time was 0121 hrs (Malaysian Standard Time) on 21st May’1999, the Sun Vista completely disappeared in front of our eyes in the Malacca strait, all 19 of us watched in total shock and Dismay as the unimaginable had happened. There was eerie silence in the air as the ocean was now beautifully calm. No one could have imagined seeing the state of the ocean that it had just engulfed the 770 feet ship in its belly.
Till date, this remains the biggest rescue operation at sea where a ship has completely sunk and no lives onboard have been lost.
SIMILAR TO TITANIC (PIC)
PASSENGERS GETTING OF THE RUSSIAN FRIEGHTER VENUS IN PENANG (PIC)
ANOTHER BOAT THAT PICKED UP PASSENGERS FROM THE SEA(PIC)
ANOTHER GUEST IN PENANG, BEING HELPED BY A CREW. (PIC)
IN THE HOTEL IN PENANG, WAITING FOR A ROOM (PIC)
19 of us were immediately picked up by a high speed naval boat, which had also responded to the distress call. We reached Penang at about 0500hrs on 21st May, 1999 and as soon as we reached the pier, we were surrounded by media to get our stories for the morning breaking news section. On the naval boat we were already briefed by the captain not to speak to media till directed. We were anyways too exhausted to speak to anyone, leave alone the media, so we just walked to the bus waiting for us, still dazed with our tryst with destiny, thanking our stars that we still are alive to see the morning sun, which was just breaking thru the horizon. It was’nt only a beginning to a new day, it was a beginning to a new life.
This travelogue, if I may call it so is my tribute to Captain Sven Hartzell and all the 672 crew on board, whose timely effort, brave decisions and correct implementations of the decisions in adverse conditions, helped in saving all the 1104 lives. Though the staff themselves lost everything including their hard earned money with the ship, but still acted very responsibly to help out each other in whatever way they could. Also our employers Sun Cruises helped us out with all they could once we were on land and suitably compensated us for our losses. Indian embassy though acted a bit late, but still acted in time to give us letters for us which helped us to have our identities back once we were back in India.
I would also like to thank my family for being my strength during the time of crisis. Would especially like to thank my Mom, who in 1999 made a scrapbook; from where I could use the photographs to substantiate this story. Also my wife deserves a special thank you for proof reading the written material before I posted.
Also a thank you to Ym-emjn, for letting me use his office for scanning the pics (yeah, our very own Tbhpian who’s going to buy the Altis soon). And last but nothe least a big thank you to all of you for taking out time from your routine and going thru this story and appreciating the effort.
|23rd October 2008, 23:19||#64|
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Join Date: Feb 2006
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Awesome piece of writing Deky, I am reading this at 11.15 pm, saw that you had updated and could not wait to read.
I have read it twice from beginning to end, the way you have described it gives one the chills. Hats off to you and your colleagues for a job well done in times of crisis.
|24th October 2008, 00:38||#65|
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Join Date: Jun 2007
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Thank you for telling that story.
Really, words fail me now.
But... Thank God it wasn't The Bay of Biscay.
|24th October 2008, 00:47||#66|
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Toronto / Kurukshetra
Thanked: 120 Times
Beautifully narrated! One gripping story and the fact that more than 1000 persons were affected and still there was no causality speaks volumes about the efficiency of the crew.
Thank you for sharing this with us Dhiraj.
|24th October 2008, 06:17||#67|
Join Date: Jan 2007
Thanked: 4 Times
Hi Dhiraj, Awesome writing, and thank you for sharing your experience with us.
I remember someone saying that this should be sent to "Readers Digest", I really feel you should.
|24th October 2008, 07:25||#68|
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Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Theres a lot of learning form this and thanking God, you and the fellow passengers are safe.
Very good writing skill as well.
|24th October 2008, 07:50||#69|
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What an incredible story and a brilliant narration! I can not even imagine what you all went through. The exemplary discipline and presence of mind shown by the entire crew in that hour of crisis is praiseworthy. May your tribe increase.
|24th October 2008, 12:03||#70|
Join Date: Sep 2005
Thanked: 2 Times
WOW!!! Now that was one of the most beautifully narrated experience i've ever read. Thank you for sharing.
|24th October 2008, 12:47||#72|
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Brilliant piece. Thank god that all are safe.
The captains last words made me feel proud of him. Thats called bond and responsibility.
On a final note hope that no one faces these situations
|24th October 2008, 13:32||#74|
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Dhiraj, what can I say?! Hats off to you!!
Having served 31 years on merchant vessels, all I can say is, thank God I never had to face what you have been through. The way you have narrated the whole episode is simply brilliant! I can identify with what you went through.
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