Shipwrecked and left to their fate
Dr Paul Burt’s phone rang. It was 0200 in the morning. He roused himself from sleep and answered the call. ‘Sir, please help us, we are sinking!’
Some hours earlier, during the afternoon, Dr Burt had driven out to the seaward edge of the Palm Deira, taking emergency food and water supplies to a crew who had called to say that they had been abandoned and their tug had run aground. After a lengthy search all along the breakwater at the edge of the reclamation project Dr Burt finally spotted the vessel. Stopping the car he climbed up onto the rocks of the breakwater to get a closer look. The vessel was wallowing, without power, about 25 meters offshore, partially aground. The bad weather was throwing the tug from side to side and the crew looked and sounded desperate.
But with the vessel not close enough to the breakwater there was no way of getting the supplies to them. Planning to try and organise a rescue by boat the next day Dr Burt drove away having told the crew to hang on as best they could. Then came the panicky phone call during the night.
Dr Burt called the Coastguard and Dubai Police, and between them they were able to rescue the men just before dawn as the vessel finally turned over.
Dr Burt went to Port Rashid Police Station later that morning to see the men and to give them some clothes, shoes and a little money. All they had was what they stood up in, having had to leave their belongings on the sinking ship. Patient interrogation eventually allowed us to find out who the owner of the vessel was. In due course we would confront him with his responsibilities – to pay the men their salaries (they had received no money since joining the vessel 9 months earlier) and to salvage his wrecked vessel. It was his abandonment of the vessel and its crew that had led to their being helpless in the face of the late winter storm.
Having bought the men air tickets to fly home we bid farewell to them some days later. The sense of relief at having played a part in saving these men’s lives was offset, yet again, by the frustration we felt at having to step into a situation that should never have been allowed to happen if the ship owner had managed his vessel professionally and his crew compassionately. Thank goodness for all those people whose generosity continues to allow us to bring help where and when it is needed – especially in cases of dire emergency.