Updated: December 5, 2021 7:20:55 am
Wheeled back into hospital ward after undergoing a CT scan, Nitesh Kumar Vishwakarma, 24, is frail but keen to tell the story of his survival that he is still coming to terms with.
From behind his oxygen mask, Vishwakarma recreated the hazy picture of the early hours of Thursday. Pounding rain, water entering the barge that he worked on (MV Shri Krishna), his crew members, life jackets, a fierce wave that flung him into the sea, unheeded calls for help, and his body starting to give way after more than 24 hours of trying to remain afloat.
“We call it pitching,” he said, lifting his right hand to demonstrate with his palm how the barge moved up and down amid strong sea currents and heavy rain. It threw the crew members into the sea.
Two nights and an entire day had passed before Vishwakarma was brought to safe grounds.
Vishwakarma is one of the five survivors rescued after the barge capsized off the coast of Goa. Of 10 crew members, the Coast Guard rescued two, three fishing boats rescued three others, and one person was found dead by Coast Guard.
Four others are still missing.
“By the time I saw the (Coast Guard) helicopter, I was just floating on water,” Vishwakarma said. “I was exhausted, I could not swim anymore. I raised my hand and shouted for help. I was not sure they had seen me…. I saw the helicopter fly past but then return soon after; they lowered it to rescue me.”
Recuperating at Goa Medical College and Hospital, Vishwakarma said his body aches and he feels extremely week. “A first big wave threw us off our feet; I fell somewhere inside the barge but then there was another huge wave that struck and it flung me somewhere into the sea,” he recalled.
He asked about other crew members and the barge, which he thinks may have sunk. “On the second night that I was swimming, I felt some metal ring touch my foot, I don’t know what that was,” he said.
In another ward of the hospital is Mohammed Ansari, 21, his right arm covered in a blood-stained bandage. “I don’t even know how my hand was hurt. I don’t know what hit it, he said. “I was swimming for more than 30 hours and was found by a fishing boat…. I had no idea where I was, how far land was, or if there was any help around.”
Even when he saw the fishing boat that eventually rescued him, Ansari said he was not sure he would survive — “until they pulled me on their vessel.”
Deputy Inspector General Arunabh Bose said the rescue operations were underway to find the four missing crew members. Coast Guard officials said two search ships will continue the operation through Saturday night, almost 40 hours since the incident.
At the hospital, listening closely to both Vishwakarma and Ansari were Shahnawaz Alam and Zakir Ali, relatives of Musharraf Alam, one of the crew members yet to the traced, as the Coast Guard continued its search operations on the second day.
“Did you see Musharraf fall into the water? Was he wearing a life jacket,” Shahnawaz asked, trying to piece together a story he can tell Musharraf’s pregnant wife in Malda, West Bengal. Shahnawaz and Ali, both employed in Gurgaon, flew to Goa from Delhi on Friday after they were informed by the barge owners that none of the 10 crew members on board were reachable.
They said they were informed on Thursday noon after crew members were not reachable.
The Coast Guard was informed around 9 am on December 2; the search and rescue operations were set in motion after that. The barge had encountered rough weather towards the south of Vengurla Rocks, off Sindhudurg coast, about 15-20 nautical miles into Arabian Sea. The survivors were rescued north of Vengurla Rocks, carried by the sea current, Bose said.
On Saturday, the Coast Guard also found an empty life raft, believed to be deployed by the crew of MV Shri Krishna 8.
Ansari and Vishwakarma gave an account of crew members on board but could not name all of them. Captain Pankaj Kumar Singh, Ali Mohammed Saif, Musharraf Alam, Satish Tandel, Ashutosh Singh, Kunj Bihari and another crew member they called Bada Ansari — the names they recalled.
“There was no time for us to launch the life raft,” said Ansari, who told Shahnawaz confidently that Musharraf did put on a life jacket. “I gave him one, he said it was not OK, so I gave him another and he said, ‘yeh sahi hai (this one is all right)’,” Ansari said.
“When we were thrown into the water, the others could see me because my life jacket had a light. One of them asked for help, asked me who I am. When I said I am Ansari, they were dejected and said how would I help, (as) I was one of them (in water).”
Ansari recalled crew members gathering on the deck, panic setting in, tempers running high, and each one trying to grab their identity documents and life jackets. He said Ashutosh and Kunj Bihar were also rescued by other fishing boats and he had seen them both on the vessel in which Coast Guard officials had brought them to the port in Goa.
Vishwakarma and Ansari, both from Uttar Pradesh, had spoken to their family members in Pratapgrah and Allahabad respectively. They said they had informed their families that they were all right but did not have the courage to tell them what they had been through since they would panic.
A representative of the Mumbai-based Shri Krishna Stevedores Private Limited, which was attending to families of the crew members on board the barge, said they did not wish to comment.
A representative of the ship management agency in Goa said efforts were now concentrated on the search for the missing crew members.
Coast Guard officials suspect the barge may have sunk but they said no debris was sighted at sea during the search operation.
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