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Rediff.com  » News » We swam through 1 degree cold water: Shipwreck survivors

We swam through 1 degree cold water: Shipwreck survivors

Last updated on: January 20, 2012 14:39 IST

We swam through 1 degree cold water: Shipwreck survivors

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Toral Varia Deshpande in Mumbai

It was perhaps the longest wait ever for the Indian crew members on board tragedy-struck Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia, to meet their family after having a near death experience. Toral Varia Deshpande reports.

For a flight which was to land at 5.40 pm on a Thursday evening, anxious families of these rescued Indian crew members arrived hours in advance all ready with flowers and sweets to receive their sons.

Bharat Paitankar, who has been a bartender on the cruise liner for the last eight years, was the second last person to leave the tilting ship. His companion – 30-year-old Russel Rebello -- is still missing and Bharat Paitankar fears Russel may be dead.

"As a trained crew member it is our duty to help and save the passengers first. I was the second last person to leave the ship and there was only one lifeboat left which was also stuck. We were almost into the waters, the ship would have titled over our heads anytime! So we just jumped into the waters," he said.

"I kept swimming in chilly waters until I reached a port on a nearby island. That's when I realised that Russel is missing. For the next 24 hours I was under tremendous shock because I just couldn't believe the fact that the guy who was with me was the last guy and is perhaps dead," he added.

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Image: Bharat Paitankar with his family
Photographs: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com

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'The emergency alarm was sounded much later'

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Twenty-four-year old Rahul Raghav was among the last few with Paitankar and Russels helping in the evacuation of the ship.  Rahul and Russels were helping passengers with life jackets when suddenly there was a jerk because of further tilting of the ship and that was the last time Rahul saw Russel.

"Russel was on leave for the last two days because he was not feeling well.  When the water entered his cabin he rushed out in whatever clothes he was wearing and stood near the deck. The emergency alarm was sounded much later," he said.

"Russle was helping others with the life jacket, but he didn't have one himself. He also didn't know how to swim. But after that the shipped titled a little too much and we went all over the place. That was the last I saw of him before reaching the port at 5am after the Coast Guard rescued us," he added.

"When the incident happened, Rahul immediately called us and said that the ship was sinking. We were so worried. I have not been able to sleep for the last seven days. All I wanted was my son to be safe. Every day we have been in touch with him and now that he is here we are very happy," says a teary eyed by happy Renu Ragahv, Rahul's mother.

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Image: Rahul Raghav with his family
Photographs: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com

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'I was actually sleeping on a wall!'

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Recounting the last few moments before jumping into the water Paitankar says, "The lifeboats on one side of the ship which had gone under water had become useless.   As many as 13 life boats on the 4th deck was completely submerged in the water and rendered useless. Most passengers and Indian crew members jumped into waters that were just over one degree. Most had to swim for about 30 minutes or so."

Paitankar had to wait until he reached the port to get in touch with his family as all three cell phones he owned had drowned.

Mubin Sheik was sleeping in his cabin on the lower deck after his duty only to wake up to see his bed floating.

"I was sleeping when I suddenly started feeling cold and felt water on my back. When I opened my eyes I saw that I was actually sleeping on a wall and the bed was floating in the water," he said.

"Thats when I realised that it was an emergency. My doubts were confirmed when the emergency alarm was sounded. I immediately reached out for my life jacket. The ship was titled to great extent by the time I made my way up to the fourth deck," he added.

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Image: Sapna Singh, another crew member, with her family
Photographs: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com

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'The captain was having a leisurely meal'

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"When I reached there, almost all the passengers had been rescued save for the crew members. They were trying very hard to launch some life boats but it didn't work out.  Somehow we managed to reach the lifeboat and then help people," he said.

Being one of the few senior crew members on the ship Paitankar squarely places the blame on the captain of the ship.

"I have been with the ship for 8 years now. I have seen many rough seas and storms but the delay that the captain displayed in announcing the 'abandon ship' signal resulted in loss of life and hardships to the passengers, including all the European passengers who were more than 70 years of age," he said.

"After we reached the island, I heard that just a few minutes before the 'emergency and abandon ship' alarm was sounded, the captain was having a leisurely meal in the dining area," added Sheikh.

Finally united with their families and friends, for those who have returned home after battling a living horror, all is well that ends well.


Image: An unnamed crew member with his family
Photographs: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com
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Photographs: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com
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