In December 1971, the ship on which I was serving as a chief engineer arrived at Long Beach, a port on the West Coast of the US. Our ship was berthed next to a Pakistani Merchant Navy ship when the India-Pak War broke out. On my ship, among the engine-room crew, most were Muslims, and there were frequent meetings between both crews.
In view of the declaration of war, I advised our ship’s captain to contact the port authorities to get the Pakistani ship, which had nearly completed unloading of cargo, shifted to some other dock’s berth in the same port. He contacted the Long Beach port authority and requested for the ship’s relocation as its cargo was almost discharged, even as the unloading of our cargo was yet to start. But since the Nixon administration had then taken a biased stand against India, our ship was ordered to be moved out of the docks and taken to the anchorage, a few miles away in the sea. At anchorage, the wait was very long, so there was palpable frustration among our crew members.
One of our crew members, who was having problems with others, had a heated exchange, followed by a bout of epilepsy, and then he jumped overboard. Though the lifeboat was lowered to rescue him, and even a life buoy was thrown near him, he went down under due to his inability to swim. The port authorities were contacted through the ship’s radio. But the port officials took their own time to board our ship for rendering assistance in rescuing our seaman. Since even their rescue team’s divers could not trace him, the officials suspected that he may have intentionally jumped overboard and could even be a spy! But till his bloated body was retrieved after two days, our ship was surrounded by US Marine gunboats.
Our ship was kept on anchorage till the war ended, but during our detention none of the crew or officers were allowed to go ashore by the ferry service, which is generally provided by the port authorities for ships on anchorage awaiting berth in the docks. Even our daily supplies were not allowed on board; we had to restrict consumption of food items. We had to prepare potable water from seawater through the desalination plant.
After suffering for over a month, our ship was allowed to be berthed in the docks and the discharging of its cargo was undertaken. But all the frustration and inconvenience were forgotten when we got to know that a new nation, Bangladesh, had been born, thanks to India’s decisive victory over Pakistan and the dismemberment of the latter’s eastern wing.
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