Captain Radhika Menon has a knack for creating history. In 2011, she made history by becoming the first woman to captain a ship in the Indian Merchant Navy. She has done it yet again.This time, she will be immortalised in the pages of global history, becoming the first woman in the world, to receive the IMO Award for Bravery at Sea, when she rescued and saved the lives of seven fishermen stranded in the Bay of Bengal.
The government of India nominated her for the ninth edition of the prestigious International Maritime Organisation awards, for valourously rescuing all seven fishermen who were battling impossible odds when their boat, Durgamma, capsized following engine failure and loss of anchor in severely stormy weather, last June.
The fishing boat ‘Durgamma’ was caught in a storm and barely staying afloat after engine failure and loss of anchor because of harsh sea weather. The boat, originally from Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh, drifted to Gopalpur off the coast of Odisha. The seven stranded fishermen – ranging from the 15-year-old Perla Mahesh to 50-year-old Narasimha Murthy – were surviving on ice from the cold storage because their food supplies had been washed away with the storm.
Captain Radhika Menon was second in command aboard the oil tanker Sampurna Swarajya when she spotted the vessel 2.5 km away, and called to order a treacherous rescue operation. “Through wave heights of more than 25 feet, winds of more than 60 knots and heavy rain, on June 22, the second officer on the Sampurna Swarajya spotted the boat 2.5 kilometres away, off the coast of Gopalpur, Odisha. Captain Menon immediately ordered a rescue operation, utilising the pilot ladder and with life jackets on standby,” the Shipping Ministry said in a statement.
The annual award was established by IMO to provide international recognition for those who perform acts of exceptional bravery, “in attempting to save life at sea or in attempting to prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment,” often risking their own lives.
The IMO Council, meeting for its 116th session in London, endorsed the decision of a panel of Judges that Captain Menon displayed great determination and courage in leading the difficult rescue operation, the statement said.
The ceremony where she will be bestowed the honour is set to take place at the IMO Headquarters in London on November 21 later this year.
The personality receiving the award
Born and raised in Kerala’s Kodungallur, Captain Radhika Menon did a one-and-a-half year radio course at the All India Marine College in Kochi before she became a radio officer in the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), which was also a stellar first, as far as the SCI’s track record with women officers goes. By 2012, she ascended up the rungs, with persistent studying and clearing of the required exams for the posts of second mate and chief mate, served out her hours at sea required to appear for the master’s certificate, which she cleared in 2010. By 2012, she historically became the first woman captain of the country to take charge of a Merchant Navy ship – the MT Suvarna Swarajya.
Asked about the IMO award, Captain Menon told the Times of India, “I am humbled, honoured and grateful. It is a maritime obligation to save souls in distress at sea and, as a seafarer and master in command of my ship, I just did my duty.”