‘Airlift’ has made a false claim. It was not the recitation of events as they happened.
There was never an ‘Airlift’ as portrayed in the movie.
I was the Captain of ‘Safeer,’ a cargo ship in the Kuwaiti waters. I was captured along with my crew at gunpoint and held captives for 35 days in Kuwait.
Through sheer determination, persuasion, and tactful handling of the Iraqi forces, I managed not only to get my crew and ship released but also rescued 725 Indians on board my small cargo ship, through mined waters.
This was the first batch of Indians to be successfully rescued out of Kuwait.
I have a list of all the 725 persons rescued with their passport numbers, and also a letter of thanks signed by all of them, plus my crew of 25.
I also have newspaper clippings of all the International newspapers covering the event, as proof.
Call it an irony, destiny or fate I joined the ‘Safeer’ at Bhavnagar Port and set sail to Kuwait where we were captured. Actually, I was not on the roaster to command ‘Safeer’ but the Captain took ill, and I was summoned for duty, just one day before Eid Al Adha, which I was planning to celebrate with my family. But destiny had something else in mind, and as it turned out, it took me and my crew close to death.
It is really sad and unfortunate that we Indians are so obsessed with ‘reel life’ heroes that we fail to recognise a ‘real life’ hero when we see one.
The only consolation I received for this unique and once in a lifetime rescue mission was a letter of thanks signed by all 725 refugees and my 25 crew members, which I still cherish and treasure with pride and emotions. I also thank my crew without whose wholehearted support, in the trying conditions, this mission would not have been a success. I must also not forget to thank my Iraqi captors who wholeheartedly co-operated with me throughout, when they realized what I was doing for my countrymen.
Indian Newslink has carried my reports in its February 15 and March 1, 2016 issues. What follows is the finale, which I hope will put things that really happened in their proper perspective.
The great relief and crowning glory as came ‘Safeer’ arrived in Dubai with the ‘human Cargo.’ The naval ships at Dubai port dressed up their vessels and arranged for the Naval band to welcome us. It was perhaps the first time in the history of international shipping that a Merchant ship was saluted by a naval fleet.
According to the International Merchant Shipping Act, it is obligatory for any ship at sea to answer any ship in distress at sea and rush to her rescue.
If a passenger ship with 5000 passengers is in distress and in danger of sinking, any other vessel in the vicinity, (irrespective of the number of safety equipment being carried on board), is obliged to rush to her rescue and try and save all lives on board.
The Captain/Master of the rescuing vessel cannot shirk away saying that his ship is very small and that he was certified to carry only 25/30 persons. As it is impossible to procure additional safety gear in the middle of the ocean, many lives would have been lost if, that had been the case with ‘Safeer.’
Hence, I was shocked to hear the warnings from the powers that be back in India, that my vessel was unsafe to carry any evacuees, because it was a small cargo ship.
I tried to reason with them citing the Merchant Shipping Act but no one cared. I was actually warned not to carry any Indians on board my vessel. As a matter of fact, my ship (Panamanian flag), and my Licence (British), did not fall under their jurisdiction.
I was trying to rescue my compatriots from Kuwait. There were requests from other nationalities but I declined, as I had sought permission from the Iraqi military for evacuating Indians only.
After desperately trying for some days to procure life jackets and life rafts in the dead city of Kuwait, I managed to get in touch with an Indian supplier. He promised to supply 400 life jackets and 14 life rafts (each with a capacity of 15 persons).
As I had no money to pay for these, I assured the supplier of payment on arrival in Dubai. He said that he does not want any money, but requested me to carry 40 of his people out of Kuwait. I conceded to his request.
I had earlier planned to rescue at least 3000 persons aboard my ship, but in view of the official warnings, I did not wish to push my luck further, as any casualty even due to natural causes, wold have put the noose round my neck (although not as per the International Marine Act).
I decided to reduce the number to 650 persons, but 100 more rushed to the ship. This was not an extraordinarily large figure, considering that there were tens of thousands of desperate Indians trying to board my ship. Many offered me money and other material goods, including brand new cars. I flatly refused gifts, as I reckoned, every car I accept, would have deprived at least 10 persons of a place on my ship.
After two days of sailing through the mined waters of Kuwait with the risk of facing the fire from the Western Naval forces, all of us arrived safely in Dubai.
Even today, I shudder when I recall those tension-filled days and the responsibility that I had towards not only my crew but 750 desperate Indians who left everything behind in Kuwait to be back in the safety of their home with the families.
‘Airlift,’ unfortunately, is aimed at box-office at not representing the truth.
There never was a single hero in the Kuwaiti Theatre.
Captain Zain Juvale now lives in Auckland.
The Juvale family has five generations of seafaring skippers. The picture here shows
Captain Zain Juvale (right) with his father Captain Kamruddin Fakir Mohammed Juvale (left) and his grandfather, Captain Fakir Mohamed Juvale (seated), who was the Indian Captain and the first Indian to have a ship named in his honour by the Shipping Corporation of India.