Radhika Menon, the first woman captain of the Indian Merchant Navy, orchestrates rescue of stranded fishermen off the coast of Orissa
By Shevlin Sebastian
At noon, on June 22, second officer Manoj Chauhan, of the ship, 'Sampurna Swarajya', noticed a boat two-and-a-half kms away, off the coast of Gopalpur, Orissa. Owing to a deep depression there were fierce winds and rains. The wind speed was 60 to 70 knots, while the waves rose to a height of 25-27 feet. As a result, the boat was being tossed up and down.
Manoj informed Radhika Menon, the first woman captain of the Indian Merchant Navy. “When I looked through my binoculars, they were waving their shirts and clearly asking for help,” says Radhika, who is from Kodungallur, Kochi.
She immediately ordered a rescue operation. “We put out the pilot ladder, and kept on standby, life jackets and buoys,” says Radhika. Because of the turbulent sea, it took three attempts before all seven were rescued.
The fishermen, who ranged in age from the 15-year old Perla Mahesh to Narasimha Murthy, 50, were in bad shape. They were weak, starving and frightened. The food and water had been washed away. They survived by sucking on ice cubes from the cold storage, which is used for preserving the fish.
They were from Kakinada and had set out on the night of June 16. “Suddenly, the weather turned bad,” says Radhika. “Then the engine failed. So they decided to anchor the boat. Unfortunately, they lost the anchor, and were drifting for six days, before we spotted them.”
At their homes, their families had given up hope. They were sure the fishermen has drowned. Tents had been erected outside their homes to conduct funeral ceremonies. So, it came as a big shock when the fishermen were able to talk to their families through satellite phone and convey the good news that they were alive. Eventually, they were reunited with their families on June 29, when the ship berthed at Vishakapatnam.
“It was the humane thing to do,” says Radhika. “They told me that if we had not spotted them, they would have died. Which is probably true.”
(Page 1, New Indian Express, Kerala editions)