Ship owners dispel rumours and tell the real tale behind heroic evacuation of 722 Indians
People who have grudges against a feature film react variously. They petition the Censor Board, approach courts, tear off the film’s posters or stage dharnas. Hanif Modak whose father late Capt. I H Modak
and now Australia-based Capt. V R Kekobad co-owned cargo ship
MV Safeer, are responding to some of the alleged “lies” portrayed in 2016 film Airlift and setting the records straight with their documentary ‘Mission Safeer:37 Days to Freedom.’ MV Safeer’s heroic evacuation of 722 Indians from wartorn Kuwait in 1990 had hit global headlines. The film Airlift doesn’t directly name M V Safeer or its owners or the Captain who, in the film, is shown accepting bribes to allow the desperate evacuees on board the ship. “Yes, MV Safeer has not been named anywhere but by implication we have been shown to be heartless and it is an insult to the heroic joint efforts of seafarers, agencies and individuals who helped bring 722 Indians to safety in Dubai. We want to tell the real story behind the evacuation through this documentary,” says Captain Kekobad.
Seated in his DN Road office, Hanif shows documents, including M V Safeer’s original log book and newspaper clippings. With a cargo of bagged rice, and 26 crew members, MV Safeer left Kandla Port in Gujarat on July 24, 1990, docking at Shuwaikh Port in Kuwait on July 31, 1990. Trouble began on August 2 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The ship’s s log book entry of August 2, 1990 reads: “No activity whatsoever in the port. Heard news on radio that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Sounds of gunfire and shelling could be heard on the vessel and fire and smoke could be seen all over from the bridge…”
“Neither Captain Zain Abidin Juvale nor I or anyone else demanded money from anyone. All the required permissions to carry 722 Indians were secured by the owners. Once Captain Juvale met the then foreign minister I.K. Gujral in Kuwait, we prepared the ship for embarkation of the passengers. We made 20 temporary toilets on the main deck,” MV Safeer’s first officer Captain Nazir Mulla now settled in Mumbai. MV Safeer left Kuwait for Dubai on September 4, thirty-six anxious days after berthing and days of negotiations by officials, including senior Indian embassy official in Kuwait S M Mathur, MEA official K P Fabian, Dr M A Patankar in Mumbai. “Dr Patankar provided us the first breakthrough when he arranged our meeting with Iraqi attaché in Mumbai. We subsequently got permission for an embassy staff to visit the ship and ensure safety of our crew who were detained by the Iraqi army,” said Hanif.
Out of the 722 Indians rescued, 250 were from the Konkan region alone. Hashmat Kapdi, a jeweller in Kuwait, from Kasba village in Ratnagiri, was among them. “All the crew were very helpful and compassionate. There were doctors (6) and nurses (10) who travelled with us,” recalled Kapdi.
In an earlier interview to TOI Captain Juvale had said many wealthy passengers wanted to gift their expensive cars to the crew which the crew declined. “On reaching Dubai, Captain Modak, his daughter Sadika Modak, our staff and I welcomed the evacuees,” said Captain Kekobad. Hanif added the documentary is also a homage to his father’s memories.
At a recent screening in Delhi, viewers, including some of the officials now retired, involved with the rescue mission by M V Safeer, toasted the gigantic efforts. A letter from K P Fabian, now a prized possession of Capt. Kekobad, reads: “This is to confirm that Government of India did not pay your company any amount towards evacuation of Indian nationals…”