During the nights of 1-2 December 2016, the Master, officers, and crew of MR tanker STI BERYL, owned by Scorpio Tankers Inc., rescued all six (6) crew members of the fishing vessel MAJU JAYA 88, which was sinking 100 nautical miles (NM) east of the Lingga Islands of Indonesia, approximately 200 NM from Singapore. STI BERYL was on her ballast passage from Australia to Singapore.
At 2345 Captain Jitendra Singh was called by the Officer of the Watch, Luka Peros, explaining that a distress call had been broadcast from a vessel in the near vicinity. Complicating the situation was the fact that there were several other vessels in the area, 2-3 of them within 2-5 NM of the indicated distress position.
Captain Singh made the decision to amend STI BERYL’s route to pass through the indicated distress position area, estimating that the ship could be on scene in 2.5 hours.
At 0230, the STI BERYL was still 6 NM from the distress position when the crew sighted a vessel. A small echo on the radar was visible and visually discernible as white light 2 NM off the starboard bow. Captain Singh and his crew tried to establish VHF radio contact with vessel, but received no reply. Instead, they picked up a random transmission – “MADAA MADAA MADAA – EMERGENCY” followed by words in a language no one could understand. It appeared that the crew of the stricken vessel was not able to communicate in English.
Subsequently, the stricken vessel was heard communicating with another vessel in the local language, but with no sense of urgency in the tone of the message whatsoever. Due to piracy alerts in the region, Captain Singh’s suspicions were raised, but the lack of urgency in the message gave reason to believe that the vessel was not in immediate danger, meaning STI BERYL could approach at a slower, more cautious pace.
While monitoring the second vessel that had been in contact with the MAJU JAYA 88, Captain Singh and crew started to move closer in a circling movement. By the time MAJU JAYA 88 was half a mile away, using binoculars and searchlights to get a better view, it was clear the vessel was in trouble. The hull of the 30 meter (m) fishing vessel was severely trimmed, low in the water with the stern raised up.
At 0320, STI BERYL’s general alarm was sounded and the ship’s crew mustered at the emergency station. Further attempts at contacting the MAJU JAYA 88, including via the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) Basaranas proved futile. Captain Singh and crew were left to act using their wits alone.
With STI BERYL’s bridge and engine room in constant contact, vessel speed was slowly reduced and maneuvers carried out until MAJU JAYA 88 was 10 m off the starboard bow. Her six (6) crew were wearing life jackets and standing in the stern, with the cargo hold fully flooded and main deck submerged. No life raft was visible.
Suddenly a weather-change occurred and a squall passed over. Strong winds and heavy rain prevented MAJU JAYA 88‘s crew from picking up lines that had been thrown to them and the distance between the two (2) vessels began to increase.
After 20 minutes the squall subsided, but the sea-state remained rough. Using wind and currents, STI BERYL was maneuvered to within 5-10 m of MAJU JAYA 88 and messenger lines were thrown to the crew on board. However, rather than attaching them to a makeshift raft, the two (2) crew who caught the lines jumped into the water. Crew on board STI BERYL pulled hard, enabling both men to reach the embarkation ladder. By 0430 the first survivor was on board and the second slowly climbing up.
Loose anchor lines from the MAJU JAYA 88 were by now passing very close to STI BERYL’s rudder, so to prevent fouling of the propeller it was necessary to stop the main engines. Consequently the two (2) vessels drifted apart by 300 m, but it was possible to see that MAJU JAYA 88 was starting to sink more quickly.
The decision was taken to lower STI BERYL’s rescue boat with two (2) officers and one (1) rating on board, attached to STI BERYL with heaving lines in case of engine failure.
By now the remaining four (4) fishermen on board MAJU JAYA 88 had abandoned ship and were in the water, clinging to their makeshift raft. They were rescued and taken to STI BERYL’s embarkation ladder in pairs and the propeller-threatening heavy nylon anchor rope cut.
By 0700, all six (6) survivors and the rescue boat were on board STI BERYL. The survivors were greeted by Captain Singh, made comfortable, and given hot drinks and food. They were all healthy, but understandably in a state of shock. Despite the language gap it was clear they were very grateful for being rescued. Captain Singh described the experience as “intense and overwhelming for both the saviours and survivors – difficult to express in words.”
Within two (2) hours of the rescue, a rescue boat from the Indonesian MRCC was dispatched. It met with STI BERYL just outside Singapore’s territorial waters and the survivors were transferred.
Before the Indonesian rescue boat departed, all its crew along with the survivors saluted and applauded the Master, officers, and crew of STI BERYL. The survivors then continued to wave as the rescue boat sailed away until they were no longer visible.
Captain Singh summed up saying: “To see the fishermen rescued by us, on their way to be reunited with their loved ones again, had our hearts overflowing with a feeling of immense pleasure, pride, and accomplishment which we will relish for a lifetime.”
The Republic of the Marshall Islands Maritime Administrator is honored to commend the Master, officers, and crew of STI BERYL for their actions and exemplary service to the maritime community, which are in keeping with the finest traditions of the sea.