The Great Escape

By Capt. Soe Naing

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By Capt. Soe Naing

Long time ago, there was a super cape size bulk carrier so called M.V Kamikawa Maru , The bulk carrier, managed by Fuyo Kaiun of Osaka and owned by Sumitomo Metal Industries .She was  beautiful , I have been on bulk carrier first time in my life and  I thought that she was so big as an island and unsinkable . Later I came to know that I was wrong.

6 Sept 2001, vessel sailed from Port of Sepetiba, Brazil  en route to Japan.This will be my last voyage and  I will be paid off when we arrived Japan. I was away from home for so long and I was preparing by myself to make sure that everything is ready although there were 30 more days sailing passage to Japan.

11 Sept 2001, I was on navigation watch when the ship was somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean heading towards the Cape of Good Hope. On that morning, I was listening short wave radio at bridge while I was doing bridge watch and updating myself for world news from BBC radio. In the NEWS , I can’t believe that World Trade Center was hit by Planes and it destroyed in a few minutes . I was shocked and spread these rumors to everyone onboard.

Last two days, weather was pretty bad and there was a gale warning has received in the region. She was not rolling much due to very heavy iron ore cargo in the hatches. But she tried to resist the weather a lot  as  we can see the green water splashed on deck and sometimes cross over the hatches. I don’t have much worry because she is pretty tough, unbreakable and we could easily overcome many times these types of similar situations.

11th Sept 2001 10 PM, I was doing evening watch at bridge as usual and I felt that weather was getting stronger than expected as per forecast. I had reported to the master about the weather conditions. I had a weird feeling and I had noticed that she looks so down by the head as I compared with original vessel’s trim condition .I immediately reported to Master regarding the vessel’s trim and weather conditions. Later, master came to bridge and checked for vessel’s condition. He asked me to turn on the deck lights on so as to check on main deck and cargo hatch covers. Then, we found that number three hatch cover was slight opened between hatch covers and water came out like a fountain on deck. Chief officer had asked to check the condition of number three hatch and he was sent on deck to investigate the matter .In the mean time, we had started the fire and bilge pump to reduce the ingress of water in the hatch. We believed that hull was already breached of water tight integrity and we have to stop by all means.

Suddenly, huge swell came along with wave and green water was flooded across the deck and chief officer was washed overboard by sea water. I rushed into bridge wing and throw the MOB marker buoy  to save chief officer’s life. Unfortunately, he was drifted away with the strong weather and sadly we lost him.

Despite the heavy weather, master tried to turn the vessel and looked around for chief officer in the vicinity. Finally our efforts were  in vain and he had was disappeared at sea forever.  We had sent MOB message to ships in the vicinity via VHF in order to save chief officer‘s life. But no response was received.

While we were turning the vessel to reciprocal course, she has suffered a lot of stress due to combined effects of wind and wave. We have heard terrible noises all over the ship and cracking sound from metal and vessel’s hull. I thought that part of the vessel’s construction was given up due to stress.

Vessel’s forecastle was submerged into sea so quickly within no times. Master decided to send urgency message through radio.  Also, he had asked me to prepare for distress messages if incase of imminent danger.

Master asked crew to assemble at muster station and prepare for abandon ship while we were waiting for the progress of flooding and general condition of ship. As we can see the cargo hatches were flooded one after another and we have already lost the survival factor for floating. Master summoned the crew to proceed for abandon ship.

I was busy with sending distress messages through Via VHF,MF/HF and Inmarsat . Master contacted to owner and made the last statement about ship before abandon ship. Finally, we left from Bridge around midnight towards boat stations. We have noticed that she was listing to starboard and difficult to lower the port side life boat. At last, sixteen crews were boarded on starboard life boat and we managed to launch the life boat despite of severe weather condition. Swells were going up and down like a mountain as I never seen in my life before.   Master, Chief Engineer, myself and two ABs were still onboard. We were busy with releasing of life rafts from embarkation deck. Weather was so strong while we were launching life rafts. We noticed that life rafts were surfing on the surface of the sea to resist against the strong weather. The life boat was gone and never seen her again. Chances were very less but I have hoped to meet them again.

Captain had tried to board the life raft despite severe bad weather. He lost control and drifted away by sea. He had taught me valuable lesson by giving his life while he attempted to board the life raft.

I had just made fast the rope at strong point and tied other end to lifebuoy and attached myself while I was boarding life raft. I finally managed to board the life raft and released the life buoy back to ship . So that other crews can follow the same method for boarding.

Unfortunately, life raft painter was parted and I was alone and drifted away from ship. That was the last time I have seen the vessel and I never ever seen her again. As soon as boarded the life raft, I was sea sick and I could not take the pain and I had given up everything. When I remembered, I smelt the fuel oil and many of debris floating around me. My unknown journey was just started with strong weather, surfing and drifting to every direction. But I remembered my digital wrist watch was giving me signal every hour. Although I was alone, tried to compete against the mother nature and I had guts to sail until I reached some island while I waiting for search and rescue.  I haven’t slept for two and half days and there were no sign of rescue in the vicinity. Life raft was almost flooded with water for the last two days.

I finally managed to scoop out the sea water from life raft. Cleaned myself up and ate some rations biscuits with water in order to energize myself and continue the journey.   

11AM 14th Sept 2001, weather was fine as I can see the blue sky and sun shine above the horizon. There were big seagulls around me. I was scared the seagull and I shut the life raft port hole to avoid contact with wild animals. I haven’t slept for more than two days as I was so sleepy and my body was so tired and I had decided to sleep for few hours.  While I was resting, I have heard the whispering that someone was coming for rescue and asked me wake up and do have a look form port hole.

I was half sleep and day dreaming because I was so tired for the last few days. Never the less, I woke up and looked up the port hole and I found that there was one ship coming from far distance. I was so excited and tried to signal the ship by all means. I was confused whether I should swim towards that ship or wait until they saw the life raft. When distance closer, I could clearly see the people at bridge and they shout on P.A system that they will come and asked me not to swim. As I was worried when the ship was passed by and never come back to me.

Finally, I have seen the ship turn around and come back towards my position. I was rescued by Refer carrier named “ M.V Pole star” around noon time 14th Sept 2001. They were so happy and joyful at that moment. At least, they have save the one human soul from endless Atlantic Ocean. Later , I came to know that other thirteen crew were rescued by SAR vessel. They were my saviors and I will never forgot them in my life time. They have given me a chance to live again and I was reborn on the same day of my new life as I move on, I had never given up and I will never.

M.V Kamikawa Maru

M.V Kamikawa Maru

Written by :Capt. Soe Naing

Written Onboard the:Maersk Tanjong

Written on:14/02/2015

Image courtesy:Wikipedia