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The Vessel Commenced Sailing Between Colombo and The North and East of Sri Lanka

Following the meeting, the Commissioner General of Essential Services chartered the vessel. Few days later we received instructions from the Company that we had to paint the Red Cross at three conspicuous places on the ship in keeping with the denotation of the International Red Cross.

Thereafter the ship was loaded with containers of foodstuff and essential items destined for Mullaitivu and Jaffna. In addition to the ship’s crew, I had two fork lift drivers, one mechanic and one helper from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority as well as a representative from the International Red Cross, a Frenchman. Accommodation was never a problem as there was ample cabin space in the ship.

On completion of loading, the vessel sailed for Trincomalee. On arrival at Trincomalee, the ship was further loaded with containers stuffed with bagged wheat flour. We left Trincomalee and arrived in Mullaitivu, the morning of July 31st.

Few hours after the vessel anchored off Mullaitivu, we saw a small boat approaching. When it came alongside, we saw one priest and three others. One of the officers met them at the gangway and brought them up to the bridge. I greeted them and immediately arranged for some soft drinks. After making himself comfortable, the priest, a Catholic, introduced himself as Rev Fr. Stalin – the Parish Priest of Mullaitivu church. As I was talking to them, he said that since they were Tamils, he and his men were afraid to come on board as we were all Sinhalese. He further said he never expected this sought of treatment. I said to him, “Father, I have 24 Sinhalese on board and you will know of us, our thoughts and attitude during this brief encounter. We are not for war. Unfortunately, there is a certain group in the North and East who have created this situation and we are at the receiving end of all these selfish and self-centred actions of those people.”

The charter continued for about six months. I was so glad; my crew and I were able to help at a personal level, those whom we met in Mullaitivu, Point Pedro and in Delft Island.

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Carrying Essential Food Items To The North and East of Sri Lanka

My ship was in Colombo, after towing a disabled Maldivian vessel which was drifting at sea about 120 miles South East of the port of Colombo. It was during the South West monsoons and the weather was very rough. I remember when we approached and got closer to the vessel, first we checked with the Master if there were any sick people on board. Fortunately, there weren’t any sick people but they needed fresh water and food. Thankfully, we were able to supply some fresh water through a small flexible pipe, and transfer some food. The towline was then connected and the vessel was brought safely to the port of Colombo. It was a good operation; rescuing life at sea.

Around the same time, when the ethnic war erupted in July of 1990, all communication and transport to the North of Sri Lanka came to a stand still. This created a situation in the North and in some parts of the East of Sri Lanka where the Government had no way of sending foodstuff and essentials. People living in those areas had the wolf at their doors.

It was around this time that the Department of Essential services which came under purview of the Ministry of Social Services had approached our Company seeking help to transport foodstuff and essential items to the North.

I remember, one day a few Government officials including the Commissioner General of Essential Services came onboard. While talking with me he asked if my crew and I were agreeable to go to the North with some essential items. He further asked if I would ask for an extra allowance for going into an area considered to be dangerous due to the ongoing war. I told him that I was ready but I have to check with my crew and would let him know. He requested for an answer immediately, if possible.

The total number of officers and ratings onboard at that time was about 19. All 19 persons were Sinhalese. While all government officials and our company directors waited in my cabin, I went down and had a meeting with all my officers and crew – they all were ready to go to the North and declined any extra payment. This was conveyed to all who were waiting in my cabin. They left the vessel with a lot of regard for us.

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Master Mariner Exam

I passed my Master Mariner exam in December that year. But, remained in Australia until February 1990, to do some touring and catching up with a few friends who lived in Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane.

There was a very good opportunity for my class mates and I who passed the exam, to remain in Australia and apply for permanent resident status, as the College was ready to employ a few of us, as teachers. But, especially after my father’s death I wanted to return to Sri Lanka and be with my mother and family. It was unfair by me to just stay away from the family under such circumstances.
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I returned to Sri Lanka in February and started looking for a job at sea. God is great! In May, the same year, a senior Captain, helped me with a job as Master. That was great, I thought. It’s truly a rare occasion, that one gets command straight away. Thanks be to God.

I joined the ship in Singapore and sailed for about seven months. I signed off for Christmas. Prior to my signing off, the shipping company wanted me to return, and they found a person to fill-in for me for two months. I had a good Christmas with my family. Of course I missed my father very much.

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Sad News from Home

After sailing on the Atlantic Universal for about Nine months, I signed off the ship in Sheerness, England and went back home.

I did not have happy feelings on arrival at home because of the news I’ve already had about my father’s ill health. He went through a major operation but did not seem to recover, well. This made us very sad.

In the meantime, I applied to the Maritime College in Sydney, Australia and within a few weeks after having received my acceptance, I had to make necessary preparations to proceed to Australia latest by end January in the coming year. Whatever the work I had, I always found time to take my father to the doctors for consultations and treatment

Christmas that year was not a good one for my family and I.

New year was dawn, and I left for Australia with my wife on January 28 that year.  Upon arrival in Sydney, we were met and taken to his house by one time the superintendent of the shipping company I worked for.  He helped us to find an apartment and when we found a suitable one we shifted to live there.

I joined the college, and started attending classes the first week of February. I called my father regularly, and it appeared his condition was deteriorating.  I was engrossed in my studies preparing for the forthcoming exams and without my knowledge I had let a few weeks pass without checking on my father’s health condition.

I immediately called home when I realised this, but unfortunately the telephone was out of order. Then I contacted one of my father’s brothers who told me that his condition was not very good. I felt that he avoided giving me details.

On the 7th of April 1989, I returned home after completing one paper. Well, I had no problems answering that and I thought that being a Friday I must have a good evening.

Around 4.15 p.m. the telephone rang, when I picked it up for a moment I thought it was my father’s voice but what that person said was not clear. I immediately called home and was happy to have found the phone working.

My mother’s cousin answered the phone and he asked me to hold on while my mother came on line. She could not talk and was breaking down; with great difficulty she said “Son, your father passed away. On hearing this the receiver in my hand fell on the floor and, with that the line was disconnected.

I called again and my mother’s cousin came on line and told me that my father passed away at home at about 12.00 noon on that day.

It was very bad news. With all I knew of my father’s sickness I always thought that he would live for another few years.

I was all alone and wept uncontrollably with thoughts of my father tearing my heart, soul and my very being.

I had nothing much to do; I called home and spoke with my mother once again. I confirmed that it is impossible for me to attend the funeral and therefore they ought not to delay it but have it on Sunday when it’s convenient for people to attend. She agreed and said she will convey the message to my brother.

Thereafter, I began to pray and I refer to the following verse from the Holy bible: John  11 : 25 –26
Then I imagined that, ‘my father had served the purpose of God and has returned back to Him.’
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While serving on the “Atlantic Universal” few incidents that I remember.

The ship loaded cargo for a port in South Atlantic Ocean, and sailed out of Le-Havre. We experienced very bad weather and it was in the month of November that year.  As it was found not safe to navigate on the planned route, the Captain decided to come towards the Island of Azores and cross the Atlantic. A day on the new route and we found that the weather improved. The Captain seemed more relaxed and came up to me and said “Come John, let us sing the national Anthem.”

Then I said to him “Sir, you sing yours and I will sing mine!”

He did not like that but there seemed nothing much he could do about it.

With that, I had to face more rough weather onboard the ship while all the others were enjoying the good weather in mid Atlantic Ocean.

 

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The Ship called at the port of Maputo

There was a bulk carrier berthed in front of our ship, and it was discharging wheat. There were many security men preventing and chasing the people collecting spilled and scattered wheat on the pier. It was a great task for them to get rid of so many people.

It was a very sad sight.

I was talking to the cargo Supervisor designated to our ship. “Mister, why are those people fighting to collect the scattered wheat along with the dust? To my understanding, this is aid cargo and is to be distributed free of charge.”

The cargo Supervisor grinned in obvious annoyance and said cynically – “Who is getting those free?” “Yes.  It must have been meant to be so, but none of us get a grain of that free or for that matter for a fair price.” He continued, “for your information, Mister Mate, all or most of that stuff go to other African countries by land.” “Can’t you see part of the cargo is being loaded to railway wagons?” He raised his voice and said, “all that is sold to other neighboring countries by our government.” “This country is starving. No education, no medical facilities, no houses, people are on the road.” The salary that I am earning  for one month is not enough to feed my wife and four children for two weeks. What happens after that?”

He continued,“My eldest daughter is only 17 years. She left home and, I understand that she spends nights in nightclubs. ”

“I went with my wife looking for her. I am sure she went into hiding and never came to meet us.” “She was very good in her studies, I planned to send her to South Africa but before that she deserted us.” “Now I have given up and I am not interested any more!”

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Looking for greener pastures.

After passing the First Mates’ Exam, I wanted to change the company. And, I started to look for jobs with foreign companies. Unfortunately, at that time jobs at sea were very hard to find.

It was around this time I saw an advertisement on a weekend Newspaper calling applications for Second Officers and Third Engineers with a superior certificate of competency. I did not waste time on this and, I applied. I was called for an interview in Colombo. The person who interviewed me was a Captain, and he was a British National.  The interview went through, and I got the job.

Three weeks later, myself and a Third Engineer, flew from Colombo to Bremerhaven to join the vessel “Atlantic Universal”. The wages were good, and I started to collect money to go for the Master’s Exam.

My father had been to Australia on Scholarship, and had very good things to say about the country.  Therefore, for the Master’s exam, my first choice was Australia.

After an initial, unpleasant and unsettled situation on board “Atlantic Universal” ;the change of command lead to a peaceful and happy life on board. I got along very well with the new Captain. It was plain and pleasant sailing. Thank God for that!

I gained a lot of experience in my work because the vessel was a reefer ship that carried refrigerated cargoes, and was on worldwide trading. The longest voyage during the time I was on board was from the port of San Antonio, Chile to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was approximately 10,300 Nautical miles.

m.v. “ATLANTIC UNIVERSAL”
transiting the Suez Canal.

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I, finally made it

I sat the First Mates Foreign Going Exam in July that year. I failed my Oral Exam and I had to repeat it. In the meantime, I got the results of my written exam on the 1st of August 1985 and according to the results I had passed well. But, to complete the full exam I had to pass the Orals.

As suggested by our friends in Bandra, we moved out of the apartment in Four bungalow, Andheri and shifted back to stay at our friends, Roby and Philu’s place.

We shifted our belongings to “Sai Datta Apartment” where Robby and his family lived, and returned the apartment to Amitha, Tarun’s wife. She was happy that we had maintained the apartment and all was well at the time of handing over.

I passed my orals, after three attempts, on the 2nd of December 1985.

From the Mercantile Marine Department Office, I went to Our Lady of The Holy Rosary’s church in Mahim. At the church, I lit candles and thanked Our Lord Jesus and Our Lady for their divine help.

I was happy! A free man, to say the least.

From the church I proceeded to the College and thanked all my teachers. Very specially, Capt. Joseph, Capt. Rewari and Capt. Subramaniam.

When I met Capt. Rewari, he invited me to his house for dinner later that day. They all were very happy that, finally, I had passed.

There were so many things to do on that day.

Next in the agenda was to go to the Air Lanka Office in Bombay and make a reservation to return home.

The 2nd was a Monday and I got a seat on the flight to Colombo on the 7th of December.

On completion of the reservation, I went to the Central Telegraph Office in Bombay and sent a cable to my wife informing her of my success on the exam and also of the arrival details.

There was very little money left.

In the evening, I went to Capt. Rewari’s residence and had dinner with them.

Thereafter, I had to celebrate with my friend Joe, who was waiting for me at home when I returned.

It was a simple celebration. Well, well, I had come the very hard way to reach the present situation.

Holy Rosary church in Mahim, Mumbai

Captain P.S.Barve (second from left) was the Chief Examiner of Masters and Mates at that time. He examined and passed me in my Oral exam.

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Mumbai Soujourn

We have some what settled down in, Andheri West, our sojourn in Mumbai. In the meantime, my wife had made some friends in the same floor of the building and they were our neighbors. Deviyani and Ambesh lived in the adjoining apartment. They had two little sons. On the same floor, right opposite to us was Anupama and Baldev and, they had three daughters of the age group between ten years and sixteen years.

Both the men were business people and they left home very early and returned very late in the night. Both these families were vegetarians. The friendship between wives had developed to such warm depths that almost every day we used to get one dish of food cooked by them. I met the men only on Sundays and, that too in the garden area of the building.

During the first few months, we made it a habit to visit our friends in Bandra on Friday and Saturday nights.

On some Friday evenings, we had company; five to six of the Sri Lankans studying for the second Mates and my batch mates visited us at Andheri. My wife being the only female did not have a problem cooking because many of the younger students took turns and helped her in the kitchen.

They had very late dinner and returned to their boarding houses, in Bombay Central and in Chembur.

It was good company, all the way.

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Sinking of M.V. DERBYSHIRE on September 09, 1980

WHEN WE LOOK AT MARITIME DISASTERS AND LOSS OF LIVES AT SEA; FROM RMS TITANIC TO MORE RECENT ONES, SUCH AS THAT OF “COSTA CONCORDIA”, FOR SOME REASON OR THE OTHER, MY THOUGHTS ALWAYS DRIFT TO THAT OF M.V. DERBYSHIRE.  

DERBYSHIRE WAS LAUNCHED IN LATE 1975 AND ENTERED SERVICE IN JUNE 1976, AS THE LAST SHIP OF THE BRIDGE-CLASS COMBINATION CARRIER, ORIGINALLY NAMED LIVERPOOL BRIDGELIVERPOOL BRIDGE AND ENGLISH BRIDGE (LATER WORCESTERSHIRE) WERE BUILT BY SEABRIDGE FOR BIBBY LINE. THE SHIP WAS LAID UP FOR TWO OF ITS FOUR YEARS OF SERVICE LIFE.

IN 1978, LIVERPOOL BRIDGE WAS RENAMED DERBYSHIRE, THE FOURTH VESSEL TO CARRY THE NAME IN THE COMPANY’S FLEET. ON 11 JULY 1980, ON WHAT TURNED OUT TO BE THE VESSEL’S FINAL VOYAGE, DERBYSHIRE LEFT SEPT ISLES, CANADA, HER DESTINATION BEING KAWASAKI, JAPAN. DERBYSHIRE WAS CARRYING A CARGO OF 157,446 TONNES OF IRON ORE.

ON 9 SEPTEMBER 1980, DERBYSHIRE HOVE-TO IN TYPHOON ORCHID SOME 230 MILES FROM OKINAWA, AND WAS OVERWHELMED BY THE TROPICAL STORM KILLING ALL ABOARD. TOTAL LOSS OF LIVES WAS 44 INCLUDING TWO WOMEN.DERBYSHIRE NEVER ISSUED A MAYDAY DISTRESS MESSAGE.

THE SEARCH FOR DERBYSHIRE COMMENCED ON 15 SEPTEMBER 1980 AND WAS CALLED OFF SIX DAYS LATER WHEN NO TRACE OF THE VESSEL WAS FOUND, AND IT WAS DECLARED LOST. SIX WEEKS AFTER DERBYSHIRE SANK, ONE OF THE VESSEL’S LIFEBOATS WAS SIGHTED BY A JAPANESE TANKER

IN JUNE 1994, THE WRECK OF DERBYSHIRE WAS FOUND AT A DEPTH OF 4 KM, SPREAD OVER 1.3 KM. AN ADDITIONAL EXPEDITION SPENDS OVER 40 DAYS PHOTOGRAPHING AND EXAMINING THE DEBRIS FIELD LOOKING FOR EVIDENCE OF WHAT SANK THE SHIP. ULTIMATELY IT WAS DETERMINED THAT WAVES CRASHING OVER THE FRONT THE SHIP HAD SHEARED OFF THE COVERS OF SMALL VENTILATION PIPES NEAR THE BOW. OVER THE NEXT 30+ HOURS, SEAWATER HAD ENTERED THROUGH THE EXPOSED PIPES INTO THE FORWARD SECTION OF THE SHIP, CAUSING THE BOW TO SLOWLY RIDE LOWER AND LOWER IN THE WATER. EVENTUALLY, THE BOW WAS COMPLETELY EXPOSED TO THE FULL FORCE OF THE ROUGH WAVES WHICH CAUSED THE MASSIVE HATCH ON THE FIRST CARGO HOLD TO BUCKLE INWARD ALLOWING HUNDREDS OF TONS OF WATER TO ENTER IN MOMENTS. AS THE SHIP STARTED TO SINK, THE SECOND, THEN THIRD HATCHES ALSO FAILED DRAGGING THE SHIP UNDERWATER. AS THE SHIP SANK, THE WATER PRESSURE CAUSED THE SHIP TO BE TWISTED AND TORN APART BY IMPLOSION.