As the cyclonic depression that wreaked havoc across the south-western coast these last 72 hours moved north, the Arabian Sea assumed an aggressive personality, wanting to blow away and swallow everything that came in her way. At 3 am on Sunday, crew members of the tugs Krishna I and II bore the brunt of her wrath.
Amid the commotion at sea, the crew members of Kirshna I discovered a tiny hole at the bottom of the tug, which now rests on the sea bed off the coast of Alibaug. They were left with no choice but to swim to shore, which was not less than 15 hours away. “We kept removing the water initially but the undercurrents were so strong that the tiny hole started growing bigger every second and half an hour later, we decided to desert the vessel,” said K M Mani, one of the survivors.
Jumping into the churning sea on their captain’s call, Mani recalls how the giant waves threw them 200 meters away and they all had to hold on for dear life to the life rafts, their only hope. “The waves tossed us like toys. Eight of us held on to one of the two life rafts. Two of us just had life jackets,” says Mani. However, the rafts could not withstand the fury of the waves and were soon ripped apart. The men then had to swim for their lives.
Two of the crew members, S K S Reddy and Baban Singh, say they would not have made it had they not been together. “After swimming for almost 10 hours, Baban started floating as he could not move his legs anymore. And my hands were tired,” says Reddy. Reddy then used his training as a submariner when he was with the Inidan Navy. He held Baban at the waist and used his legs while Baban used his hands and they swam together as one. “Eighteen years after I received the training, I used if for the first time in my life,” says Reddy.
“It was like fighting 200 mad elephants who were using all their might to kill you,” says Reddy of his historic swim. The men finally reached the INS Kunjali and were rescued by the Navy.
The 70-year-old captain, V I Parkar, was at sea for 24 hours. “It is a miracle he survived,” says Mani. Wasim Khan, with only a life jacket, swam for 18 hours before reaching shore — another survival story that is no less of a miracle. Unfortunately, the cook, Jehangir, could not make it.
The men on Krishna II, for their part, managed to raft it to the nearby Khanderi island, where they were rescued by the Coast Guard on Monday.