Dubai: From diving to the bottom of the sea to retrieve lost personal treasures to rescuing cats fallen into water and baby whale sharks trapped in shallow waters, the Maritime Rescue Department responds to every call of duty however unusual or seemingly impossible.
The 79 diver-rescuers and their commander are Dubai’s first line of emergency response during sea incidents, and don’t balk at even extreme requests like finding a sailor’s dentures or the wedding ring of a couple who went swimming.
In an exclusive interview, Lieutenant-Colonel Ali Abdullah Al Naqbi (right), director of the Maritime Rescue Department of Dubai Police, told Gulf News that recently, they helped an Iranian sailor recover his dentures.
“He was on his ship’s deck at Rashid Port when his dentures fell into the water. He sought our help. The visibility was poor in the area and it seemed a challenge. I told the divers to go ahead and search [for his dentures]. We scanned the area, located the item and handed it back to the sailor who couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw it,” Lt-Col Al Naqbi said.
In a separate incident, a Syrian couple, who were engaged to be married, were swimming at Kite Beach when the woman’s wedding ring slipped into the water. The couple sought help and six divers went into the deep waters and, after 15 minutes, found the ring.
“Our aim is to also help people, not only rescue them,” said Lt-Col Al Naqbi. “It is part of Dubai Police’s strategy to put a smile on the faces of public.”
Speaking of their response time, Lt-Col Al Naqbi, said, “[Our response time] is six minutes and we are located in eight points on all beaches. With the growth of the city, we will have new points. The new maritime point will be near Dubai Eye in JBR, and a point in Hatta area for emergencies. These points help reduce response time.”
The department conducted 234 sea missions during the first six months this year. There were 16 sea accidents resulting in two deaths and one injury, compared to 19 sea accidents during the same period last year which caused one death and injuries to 20 others. From accidents such as drowning to collisions at sea between jet skis or boats, they are all in their remit. Swimming pool accidents are also their area of response.
Maritime Rescue Department’s resources
Lt-Col Al Naqbi urged parents to look after their children in and around swimming pools and asked residents with home swimming pools to install fences around the pools.
“In July this year, a two-year-old Iranian boy was rescued from a swimming pool at his home in Al Barsha. Children this young don’t know how to swim; they should be monitored all the time by their family,” Lt-Col Al Naqbi added.
The department is equally alert in responding to animals in distress.
“Last week, we steered a young whale shark back to the sea. It had lost its way in Dubai Creek in front of Festival Centre. A team of divers, after exhausting hours, managed to navigate it back into the Arabian Gulf,” he said. Last year, a cat almost drowned in the sea near Palm Deira before it was rescued by Al Naqbi’s team.
Warrant officer Class 1 Khalid Sabeel Al Mas, who has been with the maritime department for ten years, said rescuing people from drowning is one of the hardest missions for divers.
“Every incident is a challenge and we learn from it. However, rescuing a group of people from drowning in the sea is the hardest especially if it’s at night. I rescued many people who were close to drowning in the sea,” Al Mas said. In one incident, he rescued six people at the same time despite encountering high waves.
‘Thai cave rescue a lesson’
The extraordinary story of the Thai boys’ rescue from the caverns of the Tham Luang caves of northern Thailand was not just followed by millions around the world, but also by Dubai divers.
“Our divers need to graduate from several diving courses and one of the courses is about swimming in narrow places like caves or inside drowning ships. We followed how the divers rescued the 12 boys and their coach. it was amazing how the world united to help the boys,” Lieutenant-Colonel Ali Abdullah Al Naqbi, director of the Maritime Rescue Department of Dubai Police, said.
The 12 boys and their coach had walked into the caves to explore them following a football practice on 23 June, only to be trapped by sudden monsoon floods.
“Caves are dark and dangerous places to swim even for professional divers. We don’t have caves in the UAE but watching the rescue mission provided us with more experience in how to conduct operations in narrow places.”