KOCHI: A deafening crash. A violent jolt. A mangled boat taking in water amid the cries of help of its crew flung into the sea. It may sound like a scene from a nail-biting Hollywood action movie. In fact, it was the beginning of a nightmarish ordeal for 11 crew members of the ill-fated fishing boat, Carmel Matha which sank after colliding with a ship off the Kochi coast.
Battling the rising waves, biting cold and heavy rain, the crew struggled to stay alive by finding a grip on whatever they found floating - debris of the boat and a buoy. While his co-workers were shouting for help and wailing, the plight of Benis was worse. Born mute, all he could do was struggle hard to stay afloat and keep pace with others.
“My friends and I were clinging onto the debris,” Kanyakumari native Merlin told Express at the Fort Kochi Taluk Hospital. “I had lost hope. What kept me going was the fortitude of the other survivors,” he recalled.
He said ‘Carmel Matha’ left the shore with 14 crew at 9 am on Friday. Around 30 baskets of fish were caught before the accident occurred on Sunday at 2 am, he said. The boat had anchored 14 nautical miles off the shore at around 11 pm, Merlin said.
“After dinner, we went to bed. All of us were tired and we were sleeping soundly.” When the Panama ship struck the boat, the crew was thrown overboard and the boat was wrecked. After what seemed like an eternity, help finally came two and a half hours later.
“Hearing our screams, the crew of ‘St Antony’, another fishing boat anchored nearby, reached us. But two colleagues died in the ordeal. When I took the hand of Rahul Das to reach out to the rope thrown to us from the fishing boat, I found he was dead. Another crew member, Moti Das, went missing,” said 35-year-old Earnest of Vaniyakudi and one of the boat owners.
Apart from the two Assam natives, the other crew members had been working in ‘Carmel Matha’ for the past 18 months. “At the time of the accident, the boat had fish worth Rs 2 lakh in its hold. The vessel has been completely destroyed and I have no idea what to do next,” rued Earnest, working in Kochi for more than two decades. He suffered only minor injuries.
Another survivor Brito, 24, sustained injuries on his leg. He said he had no idea what was happening when he was thrown out.
“It was around 2 am when the collision occurred. After hitting the boat, the ship stopped and the lights went out. Then it moved again. I swam for about two hours and screamed since there was nobody to help us. However, we were taken ashore by 6 am by the crew of ‘St Antony’,” he said.