It is a survival story straight out of a movie script,if not a miracle.
Seventeen Chinese sailors and one Myanmarese who had set sail from Haldia port late last week got caught in the fury of Cyclone Phailin about 40 nautical miles from the coast in the Bay of Bengal Saturday.
They abandoned the ship,MV Bingo,carrying iron ore,as it began to sink,got into a single lifeboat and clung to dear life for 36 hours,as the wind and the waves tossed them around and rescue efforts failed to trace them.
But they survived and made it to shore to tell their horror story ,their lifeboat drifting through it all and hitting an island near Balasore early Monday.
The Chinese ship,officials said,left Haldia on Friday,a day before Phailin was due to make landfall in neighbouring Orissa. It was carrying 2,000 MT of iron ore and tilted and began to sink as water surged on board during the storm at sea.
It sunk around 6 pm Saturday,with its crew hoping to make it to land in the raft they had launched. A Coast Guard search mounted from Haldia as well as an aerial survey failed to spot them and a bigger ship from Visakhapatnam was pressed to hunt for them.
Meanwhile the lifeboat,which was being driven by high velocity winds,hit Bichitrapur Island near Balasore in the wee hours of Monday.
The hapless survivors had just one mobile phone on them which was working and had enough battery to make a call. And they used it to call authorities in China.
Those officials got in touch with the
Chinese consulate in Kolkata who in turn got in touch with the coast guard in Haldia. The cellphone was traced through GPRS and the police station nearest to the crew,in Bhogorai,Balasore,was informed.
Of the 18,only two could speak English and one of them,an engineer,spoke to D N Das,the officer in charge of the police station who reached Bichitrapur Island with fire department officials around 8 am Monday.
They said there were two lifeboats but the crew decided to squeeze into one when they left the sinking ship. From then on,no one knew what the time was or where they were being blown away, Das told The Indian Express over phone.
At one point,they said,they were praying that they didnt hit land because if they had hit any rocky edge at such speed,they would have died for sure, Das added.
All of them had bruises and cuts but their red dinghy was hardly damaged. After being fed and given first aid,they are expected to leave for Haldia Monday evening in the company of Haldia police officers,said Sharad Mantri,DIG and commandant at the Coast Guard district headquarters in Haldia.