Indian sailing cargo vessel's crew rescued by the French

Typical Indian cargo sailing vessel - file photo
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It takes a rescue on the high seas to be reminded that sailing vessels are not only used as recreational vessels in today's world. While the shipping industry is desperately trying new technology in the form of kites and rigid sails that will allow modern ships to use the wind to cut down their carbon emissions, there are traditional sailing ships that have never stopped carrying cargo.

French hero ship, Otello
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A French container ship, CMA CGM Otello, has rescued 11 Indian sailors from a sailing vessel carrying a cargo of fruit and vegetables which sank 20nm off the coast of Vizhinjam in India early on Saturday.

At around 6.50 a.m., the Indian Coast Guard Service's Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Mumbai received a message from the captain of the French ship that he had spotted an Indian 'wooden sailing boat with 11 'fishermen' on board capsized and drifting 90 nautical miles west of Thiruvananthapuram.'

On the MRCC's request the French ship rescued the sailors. The sailing vessel, Ave Maria, had set sail from Tuthukudi in Tamil Nadu on November 23. it was not a fishing vessel, but a cargo vessel carrying vegetables and fruits to the Republic of Maldives, which is perennially short of vegetables and fruit because of their sandy soil.

At around 4.30 a.m. on Saturday, the mast of the vessel broke and fell on its deck. Immediately, water flooded its hull and the ship, having a total displacement of four tonnes, started sinking.

Indian sailing vessel hoisting sails
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The situation for the sailors became life threatening and the ship's captain activated the vessel's EPIRB. The Coast Guard men at the Operations Room of the Search and Rescue Centre of the ICGS in Kochi picked up the signal immediately.

They ordered one of its water jet propelled fast interceptor boats anchored at Vizhinjam to the rescue. The armed vessel, C-134, set out to sea with seven men onboard.

A Coast Guard official said the sea was rough and it was raining heavily.

'The visibility was almost zero and our vessel was rolling and pitching harshly. The wind was very strong. It was almost like heading into the eye of a cyclone,' he said.

They finally homed in on the French ship and transferred the rescued sailors to their boat. A police officer, who spoke to the rescued men, said the French ship had found Ave Maria almost submerged. The sailors had latched themselves to lifebuoys to remain afloat in the cold and choppy waters. Some of them were clutching on to the sides of the sinking ship.

The French seamen had lowered lifeboats and rowed to the sinking ship. They threw the men ropes attached to hooks, which the sailors hitched to their lifebuoys. One by one, the French seamen pulled the men on board their boats.

The Coast Guard issued the sailors warm clothes, served them heated meals and recorded their statements. It later handed over them to the State police.

In a quirky ending to the story, a police officer said the rescued men required immigration clearance to enter mainland India because they had boarded a foreign vessel. Maybe it could only happen in India!