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Final notes of differences between the Master and Owner

Third and Final Part of first evacuation of Indians from Kuwait

Following the release of ‘Air Lift,’ a Hindi film early this year, a number of people including the Editor of this newspaper who were involved with Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait on August 2, 1990 to the liberation of Kuwait on February 28, 1991 felt that the Akshay Kumar starrer had betrayed reality.

Then in our February 15, 2016 issue we began a three-part series written by Captain Zain Juvale who was the skipper of ‘MV Safeer,’ a merchant ship that had berthed at the Kuwaiti seaport of Shuwaikh. In those articles, he had made a number of comments which have now been challenged by Hanif Mohammed Modak, son of the late Captain Ibrahim Hussain Modak, Joint Owner of the vessel. The following is the third and final part of his challenge round. Captain Juvale has since contacted us to offer further comments but we have suggested that he held on until we complete the current series.

Hanif Mohammed Modak – final-notes-of-differences-hanif-modak-web

Captain Juvale said, “According to the International Merchant Shipping Act, it is obligatory for any ship at sea to answer any ship in distress at sea and rush to her rescue.”

This was not a case where a distress call (SOS) was sent by another ship at sea.

On what basis was he comparing the situation of distress at sea to the plight of people caught in a war zone at a seaport? ‘MV Safeer’ was at Shuwaikh Port in Kuwait and without the owners and insurer’s consent, the Master had no authority to take any passengers.

Official threats

Captain Juvale said “Hence, I was shocked to hear the warnings from the power-that- be back in India that my vessel was unsafe to carry any evacuees, because it was a small cargo ship.”

The ship owners were in detailed discussions and negotiations with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi and Captain Kekobad had several meetings also with the Shipping Ministry. These details have been covered in first part of Indian Newslink September 1, 2016.

The owners also had to contact their insurers to obtain their permission to carry passengers as their insurance cover was only for cargo and carrying passengers on a general cargo ship would have been be in breach of the vessel’s insurance cover.

Casualty risk

Captain Juvale said, “After two days of sailing through the mined waters of Kuwait with the risk of facing the fire from the Western Naval forces, all of us arrived safely in Dubai.”

This is an exaggeration. Once the vessel had cleared Kuwaiti waters, there was no risk of mines. It takes less than four hours to clear Kuwaiti waters.

The owners had instructed the Master to contact American Naval forces and British forces once the vessel was in international waters, which he has done.

The owners are in possession of the radio messages sent by the master.

Western Naval forces would never fire on merchant vessel carrying refugees as they were already alerted by the radio messages sent by the master.

False accusation

final-notes-of-differences-between-the-master-and-owner-webCaptain Juvale said, “It is sad that the Indian authorities never acknowledged this rescue although the world media covered it.”

In order to set the record straight, a programme called ‘Kuwaiti Evacuation of 1990 and the Contemporary Narrative’ at India International Centre, New Delhi, on March 12, 2016. The participants included Kamal Bakshi, India’s Ambassador to Iraq, Former Ambassadors K P Fabian and K P Singh, who was then Indian Deputy Chief of Mission in Kuwait; and a senior representative from MEA.

Captain Kekobad was invited by Mr Fabian, who was then the Joint Secretary (Gulf) at MEA to enlighten on some details about the SEALIFT operations successfully carried out by ‘MV Safeer.’

He and Suresh Mal Mathur (then Second Secretary at the Indian Embassy in Kuwait) were the first two participants via a video link as they were unable to be present at New Delhi.

In the Bollywood movie ‘Airlift,’ a clip was shown of a ship’s captain asking for money to carry passengers out of Kuwait.

Suhas Borker, moderator of the programme, asked Captain Kekobad if the crew had asked or taken any money from the passengers.

His answer was a firm ‘No.’ He voiced his appreciation over the efforts of the Master and all the crew in making passengers as comfortable as possible during the voyage to Dubai.

Laudable effort

The owners of ‘MV Safeer’ were once again thanked for carrying out this humanitarian effort without charging any fee to either the Indian government or the passengers.

Mr Borker said, “The Nation salutes you for this great national service of saving 722 Indian Nationals who were stranded in Kuwait. It was indeed a humbling as well as a proud moment for the owners to get this acknowledgement.”

The ship owners as well as the Indian government have applauded the entire crew of ‘MV Safeer’ for their exemplary conduct during this period of crisis, teamwork and exceptional efforts in making this humanitarian mission of reuniting 722 Indian Nationals with their families, a resounding success.

We thank the Lord Almighty for granting MV Safeer a Safe Passage.

Editor’s Note: Those of us who lived in Kuwait and/or covered the occupation of the Arab Gulf State by Iraq from August 2, 1990 and the ‘Gulf Storm’, the First Gulf War that led to the liberation of Kuwait on February 28, 1991 (after five days of war), would know that the recently released Hindi film ‘Airlift’ is nothing more than a hero-centred imagination and divorced from truth. While the evacuation of Indians from Kuwait through Amman, Jordan and not through Saudi Arabia (which would have been easier and faster) was undoubtedly the single largest human exercise of the modern era, it was nothing like what the film portrayed. I was among those who was in Kuwait in the days following its liberation and what I saw and reported was more heart-rending and tragic than anyone could have imagined. The film has become a topic of discussion and Captain Zain Juvale and Hanif Mohammed Modak have had their say. If you have been involved in the Kuwaiti Theatre during the Iraqi occupation, please write to editor@indiannewslink.co.nz

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