Dubai: For a year, he lived all alone in an oil tanker that had no electricity and minimal food and water. Fighting extreme weather conditions, he survived with just the hope of seeing his parents and younger brother back home one day.
Nirmal Singh Rawat, 27, fought against all odds to survive after he was abandoned by the owner of the oil tanker MT Hamed 2, anchored five nautical miles away from the shore on the border of Sharjah and Ajman.
The young Indian captain, who was rescued by authorities on Tuesday, finally flew to Dehradun in Uttarakhand state on Wednesday evening.
Recollecting his ordeal before heading to Dubai International Airport, Nirmal told Gulf News that he used to eat only once in three days, saving the food he received from passing by ships before authorities started supplying him with provisions of late.
“There had been days I had to starve without food and water. Once I had to stay for 50 hours without even drinking water in the peak of summer.”
He managed to occasionally communicate with the authorities to complain about his conditions after sailors from ships passing by, also helped him charge his phone.
Nirmal would sleep out on the deck in the sizzling summer months as the heat and humidity inside the ship without power were unbearable for him. The blacked-out vessel was hit by passing by fibre boats twice at night and the rusted shackle of the anchor chain broke a few weeks ago, following which he was finally rescued by authorities.
The captain of the ship said he had joined the vessel in July 2016 with a promised salary of $2000. “I was not given a contract even after I joined the ship. It was when I asked the other crew that I realised that I was being fooled because they also had not been paid for 14 to 17 months.”
There were eight other crew members. Nirmal said they agreed to sign off and go back home without receiving the pending salaries in November 2016.
“I am the captain. I couldn’t go just like that. Also, I wanted to get my pending salaries. So I stayed back.”
Since then, he has lived all alone in the ship, except for a couple of weeks in between. That was after another sailor from a ship jumped into his vessel during a stormy night in February.
“He had got into my ship when I was trying to rescue his smaller vessel by pulling the rope. As we both were pulling it, the rope broke and that vessel [Al Mahra] got washed away and sank.”
Sharjah Coast Guard and the Police Air Wing had later rescued seven crewmen from the wrecked ship, while the bodies of three sailors were pulled from rough seas off Sharjah coast and two men went missing.
Nirmal said his repeated appeals to be rescued were heard after he contacted Indian social worker Girish Pant who has been involved in helping stranded sailors.
“I wouldn’t have survived without the constant assurance and motivation by Girish Pant that I will go home one day. I thank the UAE FTA [Federal Transport Authority] and the Indian Consulate also for helping me out after he took up my case with them and pushed for my sign off.”
Girish said he was extremely worried about Nirmal’s condition and kept offering him moral support to prevent him from taking any extreme step. “I salute his grit and optimism. Though he was in such a terrible state, he never lost his calm. Sometimes there was no news from him for weeks and I used to worry about him a lot.”
He said FTA started supplying provisions to Nirmal after his case was taken up to them.
Consul General of India Vipul said Nirmal was the latest among 220 Indian sailors sent back home in the past six months after being stranded in UAE waters.
He praised the efforts of FTA and Sharjah Port Authority in supporting the mission in its rescue efforts of the sailors abandoned by their companies.