Search and Rescue Operation by Teesta Spirit

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Sometimes circumstances may place you in situations which will test your all resolve and leave permanent impressions on your life.
Kindly read below narration to experience our story.
After completion of cargo discharging, Teesta Spirit sailed out of Zawia, Libya at 10:30 LT on the 28th July 2014 for Tuzla, Turkey.
Vessel received INM-C message from MRCC Rome and a VHF call from Vessel “AssoTrenta”, advising us to urgently contact MRCC Rome. Soon after, At 1700 LT / 28th July 2014, I telephoned MRCC Rome. The call was forwarded to Italian Coastguard. It was informed that our vessel was the closest to the position of an overloaded boat in immediate danger of sinking with about 117 persons onboard. Vessel was instructed to proceed to position 33 36 N /013 14 E and rescue the distressed persons at sea.
Vessel altered her course and increased her speed to Max safe RPM; toward the probable position of persons in distress. I announced on the PA system and instructed crew members to proceed to main deck area and start preparations to receive the persons. Also SSO was advised to implement security measures as per level 2.
At 1706 hrs I informed TTS and TML about the start of deviation to save life at sea. Also Agents at Zawia were contacted as the vessel was still in the Libyan Waters. There was no immediate response from Libyan Coastguard or the Agents.
At 1736 Hrs Lt I made First Alert notification. For security reasons, we first passed   close to the boat to determine if the people were actually distressed persons at sea  and do not pose  any prima facie  security risk to the Ship.
In the meantime ChOff – Makarov and ChEng – Kostrya confirmed back to the bridge that the Engine room and accommodation is fortified and only access from outside now restricted to A Deck Stbd side.
The boat was very much overloaded and men, women, teenagers were seen waving for help. Ship’s whistle was sounded to indicate to distressed persons that they have been spotted and will be rescued shortly. Vessel was maneuvered close to the boat and lee was created for the boarding. Weather was slight condition, however there was long swell.
The ship’s starboard side accommodation ladder was prepared with additional ‘safety wire’ to take load, just in case many people try to board at once. By 1823 LT the Boat was alongside moored with two gant line fwd and aft.. Stbd side Manifold area was cordoned off and a lookout made responsible to watch from the heightened catwalk so that none of the rescued people leave the cordoned area. ChCook was instructed to prepare rice and Soup for more than 100 persons, and arrange juice biscuits and drinking water at Manifold area.
2AE Somil and Deck cadet – John were made incharge of tagging each rescued person and then making the List with name, age, sex and nationality. Using Ship’s PA system, I Announced to the occupant of the rubber boat to let the Ladies and Children board first. In situations of Distress all the civility is lost, and all powerful survivors started to push each other and fight with each other. ChOff stood his ground and made very clear to them that they have to behave and be orderly. Bosun – Blancaflor, was made incharge of security checking persons and checking their belongings for knife, weapons, lighters, tools etc.
After some minutes the normalcy was restored in the distressed crowd and people started climbing the Gangway one by one. All male were body frisked by ship’s crew and all females were told to body frisk each other. No weapons were found, their belongings were just some old clothes.2Off – Marcin was taking care of sick / exhausted people.
At 1916 Hrs LT in position 33 43.7 N /013 14.2 E, the transfer of distressed persons was completed. Total 114 persons rescued; 89 Male and 25 female. There was no child however some appeared to be teenagers. All were given water and biscuits to boost up there energy levels. 2Off reported that few of the pregnant ladies have just collapsed on deck due to exhaustion. All Pregnant Ladies (5) were encouraged to have fruit juice, sip by sip and slowly their health was improving. Derelict’s position was passed to MRCC Rome. At 1934 hrs. LT vessel was instructed to proceed full speed to Capo Passero, Sicily. I requested Italian coastguard if the pregnant ladies and sick persons can be off landed at Malta, as it was the closest land and on the way to Capo Passero .Never got back any reply and appeared only Italy will accept these people.
Capt. Raffaele (TTS) and Mr. Tan were also giving feedback and had already started contacting PandI and Insurance. The dinner was served to the rescued persons, in the meantime ChOff instructed everyone about the basic Tanker safety. Two rescued men who could speak English were made leaders of the group. At 1957 Hrs LT, Italian coastguard instructed vessel to proceed to Brindisi, Italy. I informed MRCC Rome that Brindisi was one day further away than Capo Passero, and we prefer to off land these people as soon as possible. However Italian Interior Ministry had already decided that all rescued persons would be received at the port of Brindisi and Coastguard did not had any say in this.
All the rescued persons were assembled near the 1Ws cargo tank , this location was sheltered due to raised foc’sle and could  always be monitored  from the Bridge .Blankets , Bedsheets  and pillows were provided to all  the sick and needy persons .Near the Anchor hawse pipe a safe and temporary arrangement was made as for responding to the calls of nature. By now there were three sick persons requiring medications .CIRM was contacted for medical advice. Mr. Alberto Di Mare, an Italian national sailing as technician from Sea Service & consulting s.r.l was God send to us. He was utilized many times whenever language difficulties were experienced in communicating with certain Italian authorities. CIRM medical advice was implemented.
I informed MRCC that vessel does not have approach charts of Brindisi and that is why the pilot should come with the charts. JHA was completed and discussed with the Bridge Team. 29th July was mostly uneventful day. Regular medication was being administered to sick people. In general every one of them were looking more healthy and happy. For basic Hygiene, it was decided that arrangements be made for at least one bath for each of rescued persons who wanted to clean themselves. For privacy, temporary Bathrooms with curtains were constructed below the Manifold Shower / Eye wash station, Port side for men and Stbd side for Women .Taking the opportunity, barring some all refreshed themselves.
Morning of 30th July. It all appeared in control, sick persons had almost recovered, and medication was being administered as per CIRM advice. Then I overheard on the Walkie Talkie that the deck duty person reporting to the Bridge that a woman has collapsed on deck and her friends are saying that she is having heart attack! I rushed to the Bridge, emergency PA announcement was made and O2 resuscitator, Medical jump kit and defibrillator was at site in no time.  We were able to support her, the medical vitals were on the edge but the collapsed lady was slowly responding positively.
Vessel was about 50 nm from the Brindisi port however the closest port on Italian coast was Otranto, about 18 nm away. I contacted Italian MRCC and CIRM, to arrange for medical evacuation by Helicopter. Coastguard came back that they do not have Helicopter in vicinity and rescue will be effected by the Coastguard SAR patrol boat.  In ballast Condition Teesta Spirit is fond of dancing and only those who have sailed on this vessel can explain how bad it is. Some joke that Teesta Spirit will roll even in swimming pool!
The weather  in present location was  beaufort scale six and there was moderate sea and swell .Now there were  real safety concern about off loading the sick person who is half unconscious on to a small patrol boat , so at  first I resisted  and told coastguard that I will proceed  to Brindisi . Just at this time 3rd Off – Ronell reported back to me that another lady has collapsed and having difficulty in breathing, with very rapid pulse. At this time I called up Otranto Coastguard to send SAR patrol boat with the doctor and we started proceeding full speed towards the safe location outside the port .There was a lot of coastal shipping traffic, we broadcasted on the VHF to all the ships in vicinity to keep clear of us as vessel was engaged in saving life. All vessel kept giving us the way and we proceeded straight towards Otranto.
I instructed 3Off Kurt to check if we had chart for this port, he reported back that there were none! Then I asked him to quickly refer to the Pilot Book and to find out the safe direction of approach. In the mean time this patient stopped breathing two times for almost a minute, but we continued with forced artificial respiration with medical oxygen. Thank God, we were able to revive her both times. Bosun on instruction prepared the Stbd accommodation ladder 1 mtr above the water level.
I instructed Mr. Alberto to contact Otranto Harbour Master and inform that the Vessels max draft as 9 mtrs and to give us ‘Remote Pilotage’ guidance from VTS. Also requested the Patrol boat to come as far as possible as own vessel will not cross the 50 mtr depth contours as after this the depths reduce very fast. I requested the Doctor to board the ship as the patients were not in good condition.
At 1115 hrs. LT vessel first sighted the SAR patrol boat, own vessel was swung hard to port to create lee on the Stbd side, Speed was progressively reduced to zero. And a MIRACLE happened, Teesta which is really notorious for rolling, remained rock steady! NO rolling even with Beaufort six seas and moderate swell pounding her on the whole portside .I watched this and crossed my fingers.  At 1132 hrs. LT, Dr.ssa Paola Baldaccini and Inf. Fino Daniele of 118 of hospital Card. Panico di Tricase (LE), boarded the vessel. They  stabilized all the critical patients for the voyage of another 3 hours to Brindisi .At 1415 hrs the Medical team safely  debarked  and yes, Teesta was still absolutely rock steady.
At 1715 hrs Lt Brindisi pilot boarded  us with required Approach and Harbour charts .At 1830 hrs LT  vessel was all made fast to a lay up berth . There were more than 50 cars / Vehicles and some 200 officials/ paramedics waiting to receive the rescued persons. By 2030 hrs. LT all the rescued persons debarked. Italian police interviewed Me, Bosun and ChOff. They took the copies of Deck Log Book and Maneuvering Record Book. Also all the photos of rescue operations were copied by the Italian Police. At 2354 hrs. LT we sailed out of Brindisi for Tuzla Turkey for Dry Docking.
After thoughts:
We rescued 111 Somalian (Other 3 were Ghanaian), saved their life and treated them properly with respect and dignity. I wish the same treatment is given to the captured seafarers who are held in Somalia .If this incident changes minds of even some Somalian, we will achieve something more on, ‘Save Our Seafarer’ Campaign. In public memory some disasters are more highlighted by media and Master is very easily branded as ‘Captain Coward ‘ etc., I am referring to the incident of passenger ship Costa Concordia.
The saving of life at sea by various Masters should also be equally highlighted by the mainstream media, to change perception of public, that mostly there are ‘ Captain Saviour ‘ at sea. Also in some Shipping forum with Governments we should discuss about the efficiency in rescue situation. We had Malta / Augusta (Capo Passero) closer to us for landing these people, but the ship was finally instructed to proceed to Brindisi.
Concerns are that:
-Delay in off landing may cause medical issues with the rescued persons.
-Extra burden on crew and depleting resources in conjunction with the Security risks
-Extra expense on the owner for bunkers and lost time.
Pumpman- Mr. Manuel had recently lost his mother .Funeral was on hold , awaiting his arrival .The SAR operations have delayed him by more than two days .He tells me that he still felt peace in his heart as he was part of the effort in saving so many lives and his mother’s soul would be happy about this. Last but not least, I thank God that no lives were lost during this rescue operation and the whole ship staff supported me well in their respective assigned duties. This incident has touched many lives and leaves a happy and permanent impression on my mind and soul .This will definitely be one of the favorite stories that my 4 year daughter Bhakti, would like to hear before going to bed!
As I complete  this article , Teesta Spirit is back to her old ways … Yes dancing rock and roll … may be she is happy to save so many lives at sea or maybe  she is happy that she is finally going to get new paint makeup at Dry Dock !
Thanks for reading.
Capt. Vijay Rana,
Master, Teesta Spirit

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