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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Sailors Recount Houthi Attack and U.S. Navy Rescue

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The crew of the Tutor, a Greek-owned bulk carrier sailing across the Red Sea to India, were on the deck on a sunny morning last week when they spotted in the distance what looked like a fishing vessel with two people aboard. The crew members thought it was nothing unusual, but moments later, the ship captain said, they noticed a vessel rushing toward their ship.

The boat appeared to be remote-controlled — the fishermen they thought they had glimpsed were dummies — and crew members shouted, “Inside! Inside!” as they raced for cover, according to a video one of them posted on Facebook. The boat collided with their ship and exploded, shattering glass windows on the bridge of their vessel and submerging the engine room in seawater and oil, the captain said.

“We were all scared,” the captain, Christian Domrique, said on Monday in Manila, where he and the crew members, all of whom are from the Philippines, were brought after the U.S. Navy airlifted them from the stricken vessel. “It was the first time for all of us to experience that.”

It was one of the more dramatic episodes in recent months in the Red Sea, where the Houthi militia in Yemen has stepped up missile and drone attacks against ships in what it says is a campaign to pressure Israel to end the war in Gaza.

Twenty-one sailors including the captain were rescued from the Tutor; one crew member, who was in the engine room at the time of the collision, is still missing, according to Mr. Domrique and Philippine government officials.

Mr. Domrique, who spoke on behalf of the crew members at a news conference arranged by the Philippine government, said that all of them had stayed on the bridge of the ship after the attack while he contacted the shipowner, the Philippine government and the U.S. Navy, which has been patrolling the waters to deter Houthi attacks. He also warned nearby ships to avoid their location.

“Requesting immediate assistance. We were hit by a bomb,” Mr. Domrique says into the radio, according to another video posted on Facebook.

About four hours after the collision, at around 1 p.m., he said their immobile ship was rocked by another explosion — this time, from a Houthi missile.

“We did not know what to do,” Mr. Domrique said. “We were being attacked both by water and air. We just relied on prayers.”

The crew members moved downstairs to a passageway and camped there amid a scattering of water bottles, bags, extension cords and phone chargers. Some sailors slept on stairs.

“We are hiding now in the alleyway in the middle of the ship because we don’t know where the bombs will fall,” John Flores, the ship’s chief engineer, said in a series of text messages to his wife, who later posted them on Facebook.

The crew managed to find oil to power a small generator that provided light, a power supply and internet access. But Mr. Flores began to fear they would be attacked again, texting his wife that their ship had been drifting for 10 hours waiting for rescuers.

“Please remember that I love you and the kids very much,” he wrote. “Always take care there. I miss you all so much.”

Finally, U.S. Navy helicopters arrived and airlifted the crew members from the ship, bringing them to a Navy cruiser, the U.S.S. Philippine Sea. The U.S. service members, including many Filipino Americans, greeted them warmly, Mr. Domrique said, singing karaoke songs and bringing them food. They were taken to Bahrain before they flew to Manila.

Arriving at the airport, the crew members were seen smiling, though none spoke to reporters. After the news conference, Mr. Domrique hugged his wife, the relief apparent on their faces.

“We are all traumatized,” he said at the news conference, fighting back tears.


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