By Shevlin Sebastian
Photos: Captain Radhika; with the crew and the rescued fishermen
Radhika Menon, the captain of the oil tanker, 'Sampurna Swarajya', and the first Merchant Navy woman captain, is to receive the 2016 International Maritime Organisation Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea. This is for her role in the rescue of seven fishermen from a sinking fishing boat off the coast of Orissa. She is also the first woman to win this award. It will be presented to Radhika at a function of the IMO at London on November 21.
“Captain Menon displayed great determination and courage in leading the difficult rescue operation in the Bay of Bengal in June last year,” says a member of the IMO.
A thrilled Radhika says, from her ship at Mumbai, “The news has not yet sunk in. To be honest, I was not trying to win any award when I initiated the rescue operation. Instead, I considered it my duty. But, yes, the recognition from the IMO is memorable and I am humbled and honoured.”
Incidentally, this is her second award. On April 5, National Maritime Day, the National Maritime Day Celebration Committee of India conferred the 'Seafarers Gallantry Award' on Radhika.
The rescue mission took place at noon, on June 22, 2015. Second officer Manoj Chauhan 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. “When I looked through my binoculars, the men were waving their shirts and asking for help,” says Radhika, who is from Kodungallur. Radhika immediately ordered a rescue operation.
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.
(The New Indian Express, Kerala edition)