Fly fishing

“I saw a (Coast Guard) helicopter pass by but come back soon after; they brought it down to save me ‘

Returning to the hospital after undergoing a CT scan, 24-year-old Nitesh Kumar Vishwakarma is frail but eager to tell the story of his survival with which he is still coming to terms.

From behind his oxygen mask, Vishwakarma recreated the hazy image of the early hours of Thursday. Heavy rain, water entering the barge he was working on (MV Shri Krishna), his crew, life jackets, a fierce wave that threw him overboard, unheard cries for help and her body starting to give way after more than 24 hours of trying to stay afloat.

“We call it pitching,” he said, raising his right hand to show with his palm how the barge moved up and down amid strong ocean currents and heavy rain. He threw the crew members overboard.

Two nights and a whole day had passed before Vishwakarma was taken to safety.

Vishwakarma is one of five survivors rescued after the barge capsized off Goa. Out of 10 crew members, the Coast Guard saved two, three fishing boats saved three more, and one person was found dead by the Coast Guard.

Four others are still missing.

“The moment I saw the (Coast Guard) helicopter, I was just floating on the water,” Vishwakarma said. “I was exhausted, I couldn’t swim anymore. I raised my hand and shouted for help. I wasn’t sure they saw me…. I saw the helicopter pass but come back soon after; they brought it down to save me.

Recovering at Goa Medical College and Hospital, Vishwakarma said his body ached and he felt extremely bad. “A first big wave made us lose our footing; I fell somewhere inside the barge, but there was another huge wave that hit and it threw me somewhere in the sea, ”he recalls.

He asked about the other crew members and the barge, which he said may have sunk. “The second night I was swimming I felt a metal ring touch my foot, I don’t know what it was,” he said.

In another room of the hospital is Mohammed Ansari, 21, his right arm covered with a bandage stained with blood. “I don’t even know how my hand got injured. I don’t know what hit him, he said. “I swam for over 30 hours and was found by a fishing boat…. I had no idea where I was, how far away the land was, or if there was help nearby.

Even when he saw the fishing boat that ultimately saved him, Ansari said he was not sure he would survive – “until they pulled me onto their boat.”

Deputy Inspector General Arunabh Bose said rescue operations were underway to locate the four missing crew members. Coast Guard officials said two research vessels would continue the operation until Saturday evening, nearly 40 hours since the incident.

At the hospital, Shahnawaz Alam and Zakir Ali, relatives of Musharraf Alam, one of the still-missing crew members, listened intently to Vishwakarma and Ansari, as the coast guard continued their search operations on the second day.

“Did you see Musharraf fall into the water? Was he wearing a life jacket, ”Shahnawaz asked, trying to piece together a story he could tell Musharraf’s pregnant wife in Malda, West Bengal. Shahnawaz and Ali, both employees in Gurgaon, traveled to Goa from Delhi on Friday after being informed by barge owners that none of the 10 crew members on board were reachable.

They said they were told noon Thursday after that crew members could not be reached.

The coast guard was notified around 9 am on December 2; search and rescue operations were then launched. The barge had encountered bad weather south of the Vengurla Rocks, off the coast of Sindhudurg, about 15-20 nautical miles in the Arabian Sea. The survivors were rescued north of Vengurla Rocks, swept away by the sea current, Bose said.

The coast guard also found an empty life raft on Saturday, which was allegedly deployed by the crew of the MV Shri Krishna 8.

Ansari and Vishwakarma gave an account of the crew members on board but could not name them all. Captain Pankaj Kumar Singh, Ali Mohammed Saif, Musharraf Alam, Satish Tandel, Ashutosh Singh, Kunj Bihari and another crew member they called Bada Ansari – names they remembered.

“We didn’t have time to launch the life raft,” said Ansari, who confidently told Shahnawaz that Musharraf had put on a life jacket. “I gave him one, he said it wasn’t OK, so I gave him another and he said, ‘yeh sahi hai (this one is fine)”, “Ansari said.

“When we were thrown in the water, the others could see me because my life jacket had a light. One of them asked for help, asked me who I was. When I said I was Ansari they were discouraged and said how could I help, (because) I was one of them (in the water).

Ansari recalled that the crew had gathered on the deck, panic had set in, anger was on the cards and everyone was trying to retrieve their identity documents and life jackets. He said Ashutosh and Kunj Bihar were also rescued by other fishing boats and saw them both aboard the vessel in which coastguard officials brought them to the port of Goa.

Vishwakarma and Ansari, both from Uttar Pradesh, had spoken to family members in Pratapgrah and Allahabad respectively. They said that they had informed their families that they were fine but that they had not had the courage to tell them what they had been through because they would panic.

A representative from Mumbai-based Shri Krishna Stevedores Private Limited, which was looking after the families of the crew members aboard the barge, said he was unwilling to comment.

A representative of the vessel management agency in Goa said efforts were now focused on finding the missing crew members.

Coast Guard officials suspect the barge may have sunk, but said no debris was seen at sea during the search operation.