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A combination of screen grabs from a video chronicles the rescue and its happy ending Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The captain and crew of a ship belonging to a UAE-based company have been hailed as heroes after they recently rescued two elderly men and a dog who had been lost at the Atlantic Ocean for 10 days.

Gulf News has obtained the footage of the three-hour-long dramatic rescue that saved the lives of Kevin Hyde, 65, Joe Ditomasso, 76, and DiTomasso’s dog Minnie, a 12-year-old bichon-poodle mix.

They were rescued by Dubai-based Tristar Group’s oil tanker Silver Muna on December 13. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) called the rescue “an excellent example of the maritime community’s combined efforts to ensure safety of life at sea”.

What happened?

According to the USCG, the two men were sailing in wintery conditions from New Jersey to Florida, when they ran into trouble. After leaving North Carolina’s Outer Banks on December 3, the 50-foot mast of their sailboat, Atrevida II, broke in high winds. It also ran out of fuel and power, which rendered its radios and navigation equipment inoperable.

Their families appealed for help after the men disappeared at sea. On December 11, the USCG was notified of Hyde and DiTomasso being overdue.

The USCG launched a large-scale search and rescue operation with their own fleet, ships from the US Navy, and commercial and recreational vessels. The Coast Guard had also launched multiple aircraft and cutters to search for the Atrevida II. Coast Guard, Navy, and maritime partners searched a combined 21,164 square miles of water, spanning from northern Florida to the waters east of New Jersey, said the USCG.

Spotted from afar

After being adrift for 10 days, Hyde and DiTomasso were finally found by Tristar’s Silver Muna, 214 miles east of the Delaware shoreline.

Capt Neeraj Chaudhary poses for a picture with Kevin Hyde (left) and Joe DiTomasso (right) and the dog Minnie.
Captain Neeraj Chaudhary with Hyde (left), DiTomasso (right) and the dog Minnie Image Credit: Supplied

The UAE-based company told Gulf News its tanker’s second officer Raul Deocadez, Jr. first spotted the dismasted sailboat at a distance of two nautical miles and reported it to the ship’s captain.

Captain Neeraj Chaudhary told Gulf News he was also on the bridge at that time.

“I was curious why a small boat was in the open sea as they were not giving any distress signal to the ship. So I decided to go near and sounded the ship’s horn to attract their attention. Then they raised their hands,” said the captain who led the rescue operation.

He quickly diverted the ship and manoeuvred it alongside the relatively tiny sailboat. Once they were near the boat, they realised it was the missing boat, Atrevida II.

Chaudhary said the ship had received the message about the missing boat on December 12. However, the position mentioned was 500 nautical miles away from the ship and he could not imagine that they would have come adrift this far.

“We came from Amsterdam and we were heading to New York. And when we saw that boat, it was 214 nautical miles away from the shore,” he added.

Challenges galore

Battling heavy swells of 4 to 5 metres, the crew then embarked on an extremely challenging rescue operation.

Chaudhary said it was a very difficult rescue because the swell was 15 feet and the ship was loaded. “You can’t manoeuvre [a loaded tanker] like a boat.”

He said the crew used the messenger lines to tie on the boat and bring it closer to the ship. But the line broke many times.

“I would say there was no strong point in that boat just to tie that messenger line. Everything kept breaking down,” he added.

Meanwhile, they used a pilot ladder with the harness to rescue the men. But that also failed.

“Then finally, we rescued them with our crane and cargo net [and pallets]. That was also very difficult.”

Throughout the operation, he said, he prayed to God for the success of the rescue operation. “Finally we did it. And this is a win for all our crew and for us.”

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Emotional scenes

He said saving the three lives meant a lot to him.

“When I completed the rescue operation, I was literally crying… I consider God sent me to save them…God sent our Silver Muna ship to save them,” Chaudhary added.

Capt Chaudhary with DiTomasso and his family
Capt Chaudhary with DiTomasso and his family Image Credit: Supplied

Hungry and exhausted, Hyde and DiTomasso were also emotional when Chaudhary and crew were on cloud nine after they successfully rescued the men and their dog.

They were offered food and evaluated by the vessel’s medical staff, and were found to have no immediate health concerns. They remained aboard Silver Muna till its next port of call in New York, where they were transferred to a Coast Guard vessel for further evaluation. They then had an emotional reunion with their family and friends.

Capt Chaudhary with Hyde and his family
Capt Chaudhary with Hyde and his family Image Credit: Supplied

The USCG held a press conference to laud the Silver Muna’s efforts where the captain and the rescued men shared the story of the extraordinary rescue.

capt chaudhary with us coast guard at press con
Capt Chaudhary with US Coast Guard officials who held a press conference to appreciate the rescue by Silver Muna Image Credit: Supplied

Harrowing experience

The two men, who had not eaten anything for five days, said they had been holding the little dog wearing her own sailing vest throughout the harrowing experience.

DiTomasso said: “We didn’t have water for two days. I had bought these beans. The best part about the beans was that they had water in them. They were soaked in water and we were taking sips at a time.”

“For this captain, to find us out there – it was like a needle in a haystack. This gentleman and his crew were amazing.”

Hyde said: “If you look at the size of this ship and the size of the ocean and just compare it to this toothpick that we are floating around in — just to be able to spot that, because of the diligence of the crew. Their training paid off and they found us.”

Tristar said the international rescue event comes less than a month after the group’s maritime logistics business hosted the fourth edition of its annual ‘Safety at Sea’ conference in Dubai.

Eugene Mayne, CEO of the Group, sent his special appreciation and best wishes to the captain and the crew of Silver Muna for the great rescue.