Time: 0100 hrs, Tuesday, 10/03/2015
Location: Somewhere in the middle of the ocean between Chennai and Tuticorin
Conditions: Calm seas
A Tamil Nadu marine police vessel was travelling from Chennai to Kanyakumari. A sailing support exercise was being organized in Kanyakumari under the honorable guidance of Shri Sylendra Babu (IPS), ADGP of the Tamil Nadu Coastal Police. The first leg of the journey was very calm and uneventful with an almost perfect weather. Meteorological reports were coming in about storm clouds and a low depression forming up near Tuticorin port. The crew was very experienced and has travelled in worse conditions before.
Time: 0400 hrs, Tuesday, 10/03/2015
Location: 55 kms from Tuticorin
Conditions: 5m swells, Torrential rains, Strong Currents
They hit the bad weather patch roughly around Manapad Point. They continued through the storm only to find out that one of their engines had failed. It was not a matter of great concern, as the boat was equipped with two engines and each was individually capable to power the boat. But what was not anticipated was the stress that was put on the working engine because of the ensuing weather conditions. High swells and strong currents required for the captain to demand more out of the engine. This ultimately led to it’s failure. The boat was stuck in the middle of the ocean with no engine and was essentially adrift.
The crew comprised of marine commandoes who were also members of the sailing team. The crew tried to fix the anchor down, but as Murphy always has it, the anchor line broke too. There was a real cause to worry now.
Time:0700 hrs, Tuesday, 10/03/2015
A coast guard vessel was diverted to towards the location of the distress call. They reached the location of the adrift marine vessel to find that water had started accumulating in the decks and was starting to weigh it down. They decided to tug the boat back to the harbour before things turned from bad to worse. Physics 101: Things float when they are positively buoyant, or less dense than the fluid in which they are sitting. Suddenly it was not happening anymore. The boat was sinking and it was decided to cut the tug rope, otherwise both the vessels would have spent the night with the fishes. A dramatic mid water rescue operation was done for the crew of the sinking boat and everyone was safely picked up by the coast guard boat.
Time: 1400 hrs, Wednesday, 11/03/2015
SB Aravind, the owner of Temple Adventures receives a call from the ADGP of marine police about a sunken boat off Tuticorin. Aravind along with Chandru, an Asst. Instructor with Temple Adventures left Chennai immediately for Tuticorin.
Time: 0500hrs, Thursday, 12/03/2015
By the time they had reached the harbour, the officials had decided to leave the boat be and not attempt to salvage it from its watery grave. Aravind, even though being a shipwreck lover and has dived a lot of them, did not believe that this boat should join the ever growing fleet of sunken ships and wanted to at least try and bring it up. Inspectors Irudayam from Chennai and Jose from Kanyakumari supported him on this. They were able to convince the officials present that before scrapping any hopes of recovering the vessel, they should give them one chance.
Time: 1500 hrs, Thursday, 12/03/2015
They made a salvage plan with the resources available and decided to act on it the same day. Aravind did an exploratory dive to check out the conditions, depth and whether a salvage operation could be undertaken without putting any personnel at harm’s way. A video document was done and was analysed by the rescue team back at the shore. The boat was lying on the sailing side at around 20m depth and was around 7 km from shore. The sea conditions were calm with around 10m underwater visibility. The rescue operation was officially a go.
Time: 0700hrs, Friday, 13/03/2015
A huge 6000 hp trawler boat, with 10 big lorry air tubes for use as lifting buoys as well as two surface supply divers and compressors for back up and filling the air tubes under water, 2 back up boats, heavy duty ropes, lifting straps and other necessary equipment, was arranged overnight. They started by tying knots from the back to the front with the straps, one rope from the side and another rope from the other side and a final rope from the front. All the lorry tubes (substitute for buoys) were attached all of them were filled with air upto 35 % of the tube capacity. They took out all the guns, GPS and other movable equipment. After that they proceeded to lock the doors, take the batteries out and once everybody was clear the trawler boat rope was attached. They did not want to monitor the operation from the water, as there were obvious safety concerns.
Slowly the trawler started to tow the sunken boat. Every one had their hearts in their mouth, waiting to see what happens next. We were unsure if the vessel will come up positively with the calculated towing speed or will it drag negatively on the seabed or will it simply drift neutrally. But all their hard work showed positive results as the vessel slowly floated up. They continued to tow the boat all the way to Tuticorin Harbour which is almost 55 km and took them more than 6 hours to reach. Finally a crane was employed to transfer the boat back into solid ground.
Overall it was an amazing rescue operation by the joint effort of Temple Adventures and Tamil Nadu Marine Police, under the able guidance of Shri Sylendra Babu. The boat will not serve as a sleeping bed for the whale sharks any time soon. But we divers hope that once the boat finishes its service towards the country, it will be returned back to its watery grave from where it was brought back up.