A French container ship, CMA CGM Othello, rescued 11 sailors of an Indian cargo vessel which sank 40 km off the coast of Vizhinjam early on Saturday.
At around 6.50 a.m., the Indian Coast Guard Service's Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Mumbai received a message from the captain of the French ship that he had spotted an Indian âwooden sailing boat with 11 fishermen on board capsized and drifting 90 nautical miles west of Thiruvananthapuram.â
On the MRCC's request the French ship rescued the sailors. The cargo vessel, Ave Maria, had set sail from Tuthukudi in Tamil Nadu on November 23 carrying vegetables and fruits to the Republic of Maldives.
At around 4.30 a.m. on Saturday, the radar mast of the 150 m long vessel broke and fell on its deck. Immediately, water flooded its hull and the ship, having a total displacement of four tonnes, started sinking.
The situation for the sailors became life threatening and the ship's captain activated the vessel's âEmergency Position Indicating Radio Beaconâ. The Coast Guard men at the Operations Room of the Search and Rescue Centre of the ICGS in Kochi picked up the signal immediately.
They ordered one of its water jet propelled fast interceptor boats anchored at Vizhinjam to the rescue. The armed vessel, C-134, set out to sea with seven men onboard. Deputy Commander M.D. Shanawaz captained it.
A Coast Guard official said the sea was rough and it was raining heavily.
âThe visibility was almost zero and our vessel was rolling and pitching harshly. The wind was very strong. It was almost like heading into the eye of a cyclone,â he said.
The Coast Guard crew had a tough time navigating the stormy sea.
They finally homed in on the French ship and transferred the rescued sailors to their boat. A police officer, who spoke to the rescued men, said the French ship had found Ave Maria almost submerged. The sailors had latched themselves to lifebuoys to remain afloat in the cold and choppy waters. Some of them were clutching on to the sides of the sinking ship.
The French sailors lowered lifeboats and rowed to the sinking ship. They threw the men ropes attached to hooks, which the sailors hitched to their lifebuoys. One by one, the French sailors pulled the men on board their boats.
The Coast Guard issued the sailors warm clothes, served them heated meals and recorded their statements. It later handed over them to the State police. A police officer said the rescued men required emigration clearance to enter mainland India because they had boarded a foreign vessel.