Cost saved from misrepresentation: The Tribune India


Lal Singh

In the Indian Merchant Navy, officers serving on ships are allowed to take their wives on trips. This facility is granted once a year to the captain and the chief engineer; lower ranks are permitted once every three years. The agent must agree that his wife is not in the family. But sometimes this is not disclosed, inadvertently or otherwise. And that’s what happened on a boat where I was the chief engineer. An electrician officer, called “Batti saheb”, was authorized to take his wife with him.

After completing the formalities, she boarded my ship in Calcutta, bound for European ports. With the Suez Canal closed, the ship had to take a much longer route via the Cape of Good Hope.

While our boat was off South Africa, he informed me that his wife was ill. Since there were no other women on board, the captain and I visited his wife, who seemed calmer than her husband. She explained that she was showing signs of a miscarriage. It was a big challenge for us because there were no professional doctors on the cargo ships. There was only one officer, holder of a basic first aid certificate, who dispensed the common medicines. For a serious medical problem, we took advice and guidance from an international establishment, the International Radiomedical Center (CIRM), based in Rome, commonly known as Radio Rome. This organization provides free medical assistance to sailors of any nationality in the world, sailing on all seas, by radio.

All requests reaching the CIRM are processed by the on-call doctors at headquarters. After contacting them and explaining the patient’s condition, we were given details of precautions, taking medication and keeping the patient in a particular posture to stem the bleeding.

The ship was due to call, in about a week, at the port of La Palma, part of the Canary Islands in Spain. There, the CIRM organized the boarding of a medical team when the ship arrived.

With the woman’s husband in distress, another officer was assigned to look after his welfare. The necessary advice was taken from Radio Rome. When our ship arrived in La Palmas, the medical team carried out a thorough examination. Their remark was greeted with joy when we were praised for doing a professional job of treating the patient which saved her from being taken to hospital as she had recovered well and was fit to continue her travel.

Our efforts were well rewarded, as there was no need to divert the ship or evacuate the patient by helicopter, which would have made the operation very expensive. Even the electrician who made the wrong declaration was spared from paying a fine.