Mangalurean turns Noah's Ark for 510 stranded at high seas

Mangalurean turns Noah's Ark for 510 stranded at high seas

When ‘Master Mariner’ and Captain of bulk ship ‘CS Caprice’ Capt Joshua Peris Bhatt, a Mangalurean, received an award from Connecticut Maritime Association (USA) a few days ago, for rescuing 510 refugees in distress off the Italian coast on October 22, 2014, perhaps his achievement went unnoticed, but for his family members and friends.

However, when he narrated the incident at a simple programme organised by Sea-farers Association here at Eden Club on Tuesday night, he unravelled the plight of thousands of men and women, who lose their life en route to the green pastures of Europe from the war-hit zones of Syria and neighbouring countries in the West Asia and Africa.

“It is a regular feature today for men and women, unable to tolerate oppression and strife in some African countries, to seek desperate escape through sea,” said Capt Joshua. Citing some examples, he said the refugees pay agents anything between US$2,500 to US$3,500 for one-way trip to European/Mediterranean shores.

“The refugees are stealthily loaded, without any room to spare,” he said adding that the agents and skipper are picked up from the ‘boat’ when the land of promise is near and they go back to continue this diabolic trade again and again.

Herculean task

October 22, 2014 was like any other day for Capt Joshua Peris Bhatt, who was cruising in International waters on board CS Caprice (with 20 crew of mixed origins) with a bulk load of 27,000 MT of Barley from Liepaja in Latvia to Umm Said in Qatar via Suez canal in Egypt.
When he received a distress call at 13.52 local time from Malta stating that a boat carrying more than 500 people was in distress and requires assistance, Capt Joshua immediately verified with the authorities concerned to confirm that it is not a plot by pirates, which is common in the route.

Soon after confirmation, Capt Joshua deviated from the charted voyage to accomplish the herculean task of rescuing more than 500 people at sea in a ship which was listing precariously. “The ship owners too did not hesitate to extend all needed support,” he said and added that his motto was just to “save all at any cost.”

Ebola threat

When the ship reached the boat in distress, the weather was extremely bad. On the other hand, the crew of CS Caprice expressed fears about ‘Ebola’ and security threat to crew on board with so large a number of unidentified people. However, Capt Joshua managed to convince the crew.

The next couple of hours witnessed the heroic deeds of Capt Joshua and his crew in helping the people in distress to embark to the CS Caprice in the Mediterranean high seas. “Out of 510 persons, there were about 10 pregnant ladies and a couple of mothers with infants in their arms,” he said.

The next task was to feed 510 people, which was an impossible task. “Though we had sufficient food, there was no time to prepare rice, rotis or curry. Hence, we decided to prepare kichdi (a mixture of rice and lentil),” he said and added that the crew quickly prepared food for 510 people while he was busy making calls to authorities concerned in Malta, Italian government and ship owners.

“Statutory navigational warnings were sent out regarding the ‘boat wreck’ which had to be abandoned and set adrift as per mercantile laws,” he said and added that Malta RCC (Radio Control Centre) after getting official clearances advised CS Caprice to proceed towards Sicily (nearly 60 hours of sailing). “The situation was very delicate handling a huge desperate crowd of humans with a small crew,” he went down memory lane.

Medical emergency

Capt Joshua selected a few youth and made them leaders of small groups and asked them to manage the groups. When everything appeared to be going on smoothly, a medical emergency cropped up in the form of a Syrian lady who was gasping for breath.

“Though she was given oxygen, her pulse, blood pressure and temperature went unusually high,” Capt Joshua said and added that she was finally airlifted by an Italian ambulance helicopter.

When CS Caprice reached the destination, it was a rebirth for 510 people, who would have been perished like thousands of people who perish in the mid-sea, without leaving even a clue.

Rightly, the ‘CMA’ (Connecticut Maritime Association, New York, USA), awarded Capt Joshua recognising his humanitarian initiative in the face of grave danger.

Born on May 29, 1982, to Lawrence Peris Bhatt and Juliana, in Mangaluru, he had his first education in Roshni Nilaya and at St Aloysius College later. He completed pre sea training in 2004 and cleared chief mates exams in 2008 and promoted to chief officer in 2010. He cleared the Master Mariner’s exams and received four stripes as ‘Captain’ in 2013.

Presently, he is part of Campbell Shipping Company Limited in Bahamas, with 16 ships mainly bulkers sailing worldwide.

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