Crew members of coast guard vessel Varuna had to fight high winds and rough sea, putting their lives greatly at risk, to rescue the 22 people onboard MV Asian Express.
“The greatest challenge before us was the rough sea and strong winds with speeds of about 25 knots. Daylight was limited, with the poor visibility accentuated due to rains. During nights rescue operation is a complex process,” pointed out KM Arun Kumar, commanding officer, ICGS Varuna. On being alerted, officials at the district office of the coast guard deployed a Dornier aircraft to ascertain the location of the vessel. Later, ICGS Varuna, which was close to Kalpeni island, and about 110 nautical miles away from the cargo vessel, was pressed into search and rescue operations.
It was around 10.30 am on Wednesday that Varuna received a message from the coast guard regarding Asian Express which reported engine trouble. The cargo vessel had no satellite phone and hence the message was relayed to Varuna via another vessel MV Golden Shui. The coast guard ship reached the location prepared for emergency towing.
At around 3.15 pm, when Varuna reached the location, the cargo vessel’s agent confirmed that Tug Villa-2 from Maldives, which was to reach the spot to tow the cargo vessel, has yet to depart from Maldives, which was at a distance of 300 nautical miles. Master of the cargo ship reported heavy flooding due to a crack that had developed in the vessel. The crew were unable to control the vessel and were panic-stricken. At about 4.45 pm the master decided to abandon the vessel.
“Rescue operation was challenging as there was the possibility of a collision between the two vessels. Varuna was smaller than the cargo vessel and the vessel’s life boats were non-operational,” officials pointed out. The master of Asian Express was asked to keep the generator, lights and AIS working so as to alert other vessels passing through the region.
The crew members were rescued in two batches. The first lifeboat, launched with three crew members onboard, got strayed and went adrift. They were rescued at around 6 pm. Varuna maintained a close distance with the cargo vessel while avoiding possible collision. Later, the remaining 19 were also rescued.
After completing rescue operations, Varuna remained in the vicinity of the vessel to monitor its state of affairs. At about 5.30 am on Thursday the cargo vessel sank. Later, Varuna carried out surveillance operations to track possible oil spill and debris floating in the area, officials said.
A sinking feeling surfaces
Mystery shrouds Maldivian vessel Asian Express that sunk off the Lakshadweep island on Thursday. The vessel had almost reached its destination. Since it was abandoned due to engine failure and damage due to cracks in the body, the vessel owner can claim insurance. Now, the agents and owners of the vessel will take steps for claiming insurance. “If it was the last voyage of the vessel, they would have had to scrap it on reaching Male. But now that the vessel has sunk, they can claim insurance. So the circumstances which led to the engine failure and cracks need to be verified,” sources pointed out.