Stranded on the high seas, Indian Naval Commander Abhilash Tomy, who suffered a serious back injury while representing India in the international solo circumnavigation Golden Globe Race (GGR) 2018, will be picked up by the French fisheries patrol vessel Osiris in the next 16 hours, an Indian Navy spokesperson said Sunday evening.
An Indian Navy aircraft, P-8i, operating from Mauritius, visually sighted the indigenously built 10-metre vessel S V Thuriya, on which 39-year old Tomy set sail on July 1, at 7:50 am on Sunday. The vessel was in the southern Indian Ocean, approximately 1,900 nautical miles from Perth, Australia, and 2,700 nm (approximately 5,020 km on ground) from Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari), according to the spokesperson.
Osiris, the French vessel, was expected to carry the sailor to the Australian research vessel HMAS Ballarat, which has left Perth, he said.
Commander Tomy’s boat Thuriya was dismasted in extremely rough weather and sea conditions, amidst wind speeds of 130 kmph and 10-metre-high waves. The Kirti Chakra awardee was in the third position in the race with 11 international participants, having sailed over 10,500 nautical miles in the last 84 days, since setting off from Les Sables-d’Olonne in France.
The Australian Defence Force joined the mission to rescue Tomy, who sent distress messages from his vessel, reported Australian TV network’s Channel 9. Tomy sent his first satellite text message on Saturday, saying, “ACTIVATED EPIRB. CANT WALK. MIGHT NEED STRETCHER”, GGR organisers said in a statement. A subsequent message read: “CAN MOVE TOES. FEEL NUMB. CAN’T EAT OR DRINK. TOUGH 2 REACH GRAB BAG”.
Following the alert, the Indian Navy dispatched the Indian Naval stealth frigate INS Satpura with a Chetak helicopter and tanker INS Jyoti along with P-8i to rescue the commander. The earliest that INS Satpura can arrive at the location would be Friday, the Navy spokesperson said.
The P-8i aircraft, which was launched from Port Louis in Mauritius, landed back after nine hours on Sunday having established visual contact with Thuriya, said a defence spokesperson. “Commander Tomy responded by ping on EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) as the aircraft was flying over him,” the spokesperson said.
At 7.30 pm on Sunday, Tomy sent out another message to the event organisers complaining of chest burn. He said that he had drunk iced tea, which he threw up, sources told The Indian Express.
The commander’s friends have been in touch with another participant, Gregor McGuckin, an Ireland national whose yacht Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance was also dismasted in the same storm. He is expected to reach Tomy in the next 10 hours, sources said Sunday evening. “He is 70 km away from Tomy. As he is an expert hand-radio operator, he has been in constant touch with us. We have been directing him towards Tomy’s location while we are also guiding him with the speed he needs to maintain,” said a source.
“Continuous watch over the boat is being maintained by the Indian Navy and RAAF aircraft till rescue is completed,” a Navy spokesperson in Mumbai said, adding that the Indian Naval Defence Attaché in Australia was camping at the regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC). “The situation is being closely monitored by the Naval headquarters in New Delhi and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Melbourne.”
A former Naval officer, Commander Arun Jyoti (retd), posted on social media that Captain Alok Ananda, Yudh Seva Medal, who is commanding INS Satpura, was at sea somewhere in the Indian Ocean when he was tasked to rescue Tomy. “As his ship gained speed and cruised on high seas against weather which tossed around, Alok’s father fighting a pitched battle at his hometown in Muzaffarpur breathed his last on the same day. The ship cannot turn back as there is a life to be saved at sea.” The Navy spokesperson confirmed that Captain Ananda was safe, but his father passed away.
Tomy is the only Indian in the GGR, that involves a gruelling 30,000-miles solo circumnavigation of the globe in a yacht with no modern technology except communication equipment. Originally from Alappuzha, Tomy grew up in Naval bases around the country, since his father was in the Naval police. “I had dreamed of having great adventures at sea ever since I was a kid, reading books like Moby Dick and Treasure Island,” he had said, in an interview to The Indian Express last year. “So, after joining the Navy, when I got the chance to do a solo trip around the world in a boat, of course I jumped at it.”
On March 31, 2013, Tomy had become the first Indian to complete a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the world by boat, an around-the-world trip that began on November 1, 2012.
The GGR is being organised to celebrate 50 years since the 1968-69 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, to complete an unassisted, solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the world via the Great Capes. A key feature of the race is that circumnavigation is being attempted under the same conditions as the original 1968 around-the-world-yacht race.
When interviewed last year, Tomy had particularly relished this aspect of the challenge, saying, “We won’t be allowed to use any new technology that has been developed since then. If it didn’t exist in 1968, we can’t use it. So that means no GPS, electronic watches, electronic compass, electronic meter. We are permitted to use LED lights, a few solar panels and wind generators.”
Moreover, the only boats allowed are of traditional construction, with no modern, faster designs. Tomy’s ‘Thuriya’ is a replica of 1968 winner Robin Knox-Johnston’s 32-foot wooden sailboat. —(With inputs from Pooja Pillai)