Master and owner debate on shipping Indians out of Kuwait

Second of three Parts

master-and-owner-debate-hanif-modak-webFollowing the release of ‘Air Lift,’ a Hindi film early this year, a number of people including the Editor of this newspaper who were involved with Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait on August 2, 1990 to the liberation of Kuwait on February 28, 1991 felt that the Akshay Kumar starrer had betrayed reality.

Then in our February 15, 2016 issue we began a three-part series written by Captain Zain Juvale who was the skipper of ‘MV Safeer,’ a merchant ship that had berthed at the Kuwaiti seaport of Shuwaikh. In those articles, he had made a number of comments which have now been challenged by Hanif Mohammed Modak, son of the late Captain Ibrahim Hussain Modak, Joint Owner of the vessel. The following is the second part of his challenge round. Captain Juvale has since contacted us to offer further comments but we have suggested that he held on until we complete the current series.


Hanif Mohammed Modak

In his article, Captain Juvale had said, “Unfortunately, although I obtained clearance from Iraqi authorities within 24 hours, bureaucratic hurdles from New Delhi tended to derail my rescue mission.”

This is incorrect. The owners were in New Delhi meeting with External Affairs Ministry officials and were making efforts to get their permission for evacuation of Indian expatriates from Kuwait.

Household names

Captain Juvale said, “There was a constant stream of Indians pleading with me to rescue them on board my ship. I was confident and hence took a bold decision to ignore the warnings of the Indian authorities, called my ‘War Cabinet’ for a discussion about my plan, and proceeded with the rescue mission at my own risk and responsibility.”

The Master had no authority to proceed with a rescue mission and could not have done so without the approval of ship owners and insurers. The ship could not have sailed out of Kuwait without the permission of the Iraqi authorities and the Indian Government.

Ship conversion

Captain Juvale said, “I managed to procure 400 life jackets and 14 life rafts from a dead war torn city. For all those trying to flee Kuwait, my small cargo ship was like QE2.

This is incorrect.

The owners with the help of Indian Navy have delivered 387 life jackets at Port Shuwaikh whereas the Master had procured only 14 life rafts locally.

Captain Juvale: I later learnt that there were efforts underway back home in India, to prosecute me for defying the instructions of the Indian authorities.

This is also incorrect.

The Indian Government had no reason to prosecute the Master. The officials were discussing all aspects of evacuation with the owners and finally gave the green light to proceed with the evacuation.

The Indian government issued a letter to Captain V R Kekobad thanking the owners and the company for safely carrying over 700 Indian nationals from Kuwait and confirmed that the Indian government did not pay any amount for transporting Indian nationals.


The following is a highly edited version of a letter sent by Captain Nazir Al Mulla, Second-in-Command Chief Officer of ‘MV Safeer’ to Captain Zain Juvale on March 13, 2016:

Hearty Congratulations for ‘The Unsung Hero Community Award.’

As you are aware, the evacuation of 722 Indians on MV Safeer was once again in the limelight in the February 6, 2016 issue of ‘Midday.’ All this momentum was caught after release of (Hindi) movie ‘Air Lift.’ Also, Oyster had called the media and Safeer was again in the news after 25 years. However, I was out of India during this period.

Recently I was in Oyster’s office and to my surprise, I happened to view the logbook of ‘Safeer’ signed by us. I read some of your writings, some of which are unfairly exaggerated, exploited and not in line with actual facts that we faced in Iraq-occupied Kuwait. Following are some examples:

During the first military action, when all crew was captured by Iraqi soldiers and forced to line up on the wharf in surrendered position. After this, there was no harassment. None of the crew faced a gun six inches from his eyes.

On no occasion during our 35 days of stay in Kuwait did the ship run short of food. ‘Safeer’ being a rice carrier had stores full of rejected/torn bags sufficient for the entire crew to survive for at least nine months in dire situations. Later the soldiers opened a canteen in port Shuwaikh and poured boxes of chicken and other stuff on the ship. In fact, some Iraqi authorities and some soldiers used to have their meals from the vessel.

I must emphasise that the unprecedented operation that led to successful evacuation of 722 Indians from Kuwait on a small cargo ship was not a one-man show. It was a joint effort by the crew of ‘Safeer.’


Photo Caption:

A batch of Indians rescued from Kuwait in September 1990

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