Captain Radhika Menon will become the first woman in the world to receive the Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Master of the oil products tanker Sampurna Swarajya, she rescued the lives of seven fishermen in the Bay of Bengal last June, and will receive the award at a ceremony at IMO Headquarters on November 21.
After engine failure and loss of anchor because of harsh sea weather, the fishing boat ‘Durgamma’ was caught in a storm. It had drifted from Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh to Gopalpur in Odisha and the seven fishermen onboard were surviving on ice from the cold storage because their food supplies had been washed away. They had lost all hopes of rescue.
Radhika Menon was at the helm of the oil tanker Sampurna Swarajya and spotted the vessel 2.5 km away. “Through wave heights of more than 25 feet, winds of more than 60 knots and heavy rain, on 22 June, the second officer on the Sampurna Swarajya spotted the boat 2.5 kilometres away, off the coast of Gopalpur, Odisha. Captain Menon immediately ordered a rescue operation, utilising the pilot ladder and with life jackets on standby,” the Shipping Ministry said in a statement.
After three difficult attempts in the strong wind and high waves, the seven fishermen, aged between 15 and 50 years, were brought to safety.
The fishermen’s families had believed that they were lost at sea and were preparing for their last rites when they received a call about the rescue.
“It is a maritime obligation to save souls in distress at sea and, as a seafarer and master in command of my ship, I just did my duty,” she told the Times of India.
The IMO award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea was started in 2007. It is an annual award given to persons who perform acts of exceptional bravery and courage “in attempting to save life at sea or in attempting to prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment,” often risking their own lives. IMO is the United Nations specialised agency, which is responsible for the safety of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. Captain Menon was nominated by the Government of India and the IMO Council, meeting for its 116th session in London, shared the decision that Captain Menon displayed great determination and courage in leading the difficult rescue operation.
A resident Kodungallur in Kerala, she became the first woman to captain a ship of the Indian Merchant Navy five years ago. She did a one-and-a-half year radio course at the All India Marine College in Kochi before she became a radio officer in Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), the first woman to do so in India.