NEW DELHI: A gas cylinder thrown overboard from their destroyed boat kept alive Abid Dawood and his colleagues, after their skiff was hit by an airstrike from the Saudi-led coalition forces in the waters off the Yemeni coast.
From a small village in Gujarat, Abid Dawood ended up in a hospital in Hodeidah in war-ravaged Yemen and gave a first-hand account of his travails to Express.
On Friday, the ministry of external affairs said that bodies of six out of the seven missing sailors were recovered. “The families of the deceased have been informed, and their verbal consent has been taken for appropriate funeral rites to be performed today in Hodeidah as per religious practices,” said MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup.
Fourteen survived the aerial attack on the two boats, Mustafa and Asmar – out of which four are being treated in hospital.
All the crew members were from three villages near Jamnagar in Gujarat. “I left India about eight months ago and since then was part of the boat plying between Dubai, Somalia and Yemen,” he said, adding that he had been sailing for last 10-12 years.
Abid claimed that they bought and sold everyday items like toothpaste, soaps and textiles from Dubai to Yemen, which was under a blockade from coalition forces. Earlier, local media reports had identified them as fuel smugglers, but the Gujarat resident denied it.
Speaking from the hospital bed, Abid recounted the terrifying sight of the plane coming towards the boats, bobbing in the sea. “We stayed out the sea as we could see the planes hitting targets on the shore and smoke rising,” Abid said speaking in hindi.
“We raised the Indian flag on our boat when we saw the plane coming towards us hoping that it will stop them.. but that didn’t help,” he said. Asmar was the first to be hit. “There was no warning, nothing”.
The Mustafa crew tried to rescue the sailors from Asmar, who were in water from the shock of the blast. “We stayed in the area as we were tried to take on some of the men from Asmar in the water. Then plane came back and hit us”.
Abid can’t remember much in the immediate aftermath of the aerial strike, except the smoke and the sound. “The blasts were also loud that my ears were blocked till two days,” he said.
Then, there were was the smoke. “I could not see anything. It was all thick smoke. There were broken parts of the boat floating around me,” he said.
The 32-year-old sailor gave the credit for his being alive today to his captain, who refused to leave the boat before throwing aboard about 2-3 gas cylinders.
“Six or seven of us were holding onto the cylinders to stay afloat. We remained in the water for about four hours. We kept shouting for help, but even though there were fishing boats nearby, they didn’t dare rescue us as they thought that they will also be hit by the planes,” he said.
After hours in the water, they finally swam reached the shore, where local Yemenis brought them to Hodeidah for treatment, with two of them having got severe burns.
“The Yemenis gave us local phones as they were getting lots of calls from Indian authorities. So, we have spoken to our families back home. They just want us back,” he said.
But, their stay in Yemen would be longer, as their documents are destroyed and exit routes are currently dangerous. “All our passports were in the ship. We have nothing left”.
Indian diplomats in Djibouti contacted some of the long-term Indian residents who remained in Hodeidah after the evacuation for help. “Three of them met us today and gave us water and fruits,” he said.
But Abid, grateful for his survival, is burdened with sorrow. Among the dead was his uncle. “I don’t know how I will speak to his family members. What do I tell him? We had only gone away to earn our living”.