Indian ship captain, crew win ‘exceptional bravery' awards for Red Sea rescue

Captain Avhilash Rawat and his crew of an oil tanker have been named among the winners of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) 2024 Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea for their “extraordinary courage” shown in a Red Sea rescue mission.
International Maritime Organisation (IMO)
International Maritime Organisation (IMO)

London |Captain Avhilash Rawat and his crew of an oil tanker have been named among the winners of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) 2024 Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea for their “extraordinary courage” shown in a Red Sea rescue mission.

Rawat and his crew were declared winners by the IMO on Wednesday for the "determination and endurance" demonstrated while coordinating firefighting and damage control efforts to combat a fire that broke out after an anti-ship missile reportedly fired by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels struck their vessel 'Marlin Luanda' earlier this year.

Captain Brijesh Nambiar and the crew of the Indian Navy ship INS Visakhapatnam have been conferred a Letter of Commendation for their support to the oil tanker when in distress.

“On the evening of J26 January 2024, the Marlin Luanda, carrying 84,147 tonnes of Naphtha, was en route from Suez to Incheon when it was struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile. The explosion ignited a cargo tank, creating a significant fire hazard with flames exceeding 5 meters,” reads the award citation.

“Despite the damage, Captain Avhilash Rawat swiftly organised firefighting efforts, ensuring the crew's safety and maintaining the ship's navigability amidst the chaos. With the starboard lifeboat destroyed, the remaining crew mustered at the port lifeboat station, ready for potential evacuation,” it added.

Despite the extreme danger and the constant threat of further attacks, Rawat and his crew fought the fire using fixed foam monitors and portable hoses. The fire continued to spread, particularly affecting an adjacent tank, but the crew managed to contain it using seawater after foam supplies were exhausted, the IMO notes.

After four and a half hours fighting the fire on their own, assistance arrived from the merchant tanker Achilles and later from the French frigate FS Alsace and the United States frigate USS Carney, which provided additional firefighting foam and support, followed soon after by the Indian warship INS Visakhapatnam.

Despite relentless efforts by the Marlin Luanda crew, the fire reignited multiple times. The situation remained critical, and expert consultations suggested abandoning the vessel.

However, Captain Rawat and his crew persisted. The turning point came when professionally trained firefighters from the Indian Navy boarded the ship. They managed to get closer to the fire due to their superior equipment, and their efforts, combined with those of the Marlin Luanda crew, finally succeeded in extinguishing the fire and sealing a significant hull breach.

"Twenty-four hours after the missile strike, the Marlin Luanda sailed to safety under naval escort," the IMO noted.

Captain Rawat and his crew were nominated for the award by the Marshall Islands and, along with Captain Jorge Fernando Galaviz Fuentes and the crew of the tugboat Pemex Maya, nominated by Mexico, will receive their awards at the annual ceremony to be held at the IMO Headquarters in London on December 2, during the 109th session of the Maritime Security Committee.

A total of 41 nominations were received from 15 member states and three non-governmental organisations in consultative status with IMO. Nominations were initially reviewed by an Assessment Panel, and their recommendations were considered by a panel of judges, who ultimately selected the recipients of honours.

The recommendations of the Panel of Judges have now been endorsed by the IMO Council, meeting for its 132nd session being held in London this week.

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