Lost At Sea

With the advent of the gray months, when the fury of the sea begins to simmer then bursts into a boil, Tartous braces itself for expected yet never acceptable losses.

Shortly after leaving port in the Black Sea and loaded with 10,000 tons of steel, "Haj Ismail", the ship, came face to face with a ferocious storm not far from the Ukrainian-Russian shoreline. The Georgian flagged vessel is truly Syrian at heart. Manned by 17 seamen of our own, she was sailing home to Tartous. The deranged sea toyed with her making her pitch high and low against the onslaught of gigantic waves and strong winds, then on an impluse split her in two. Within moments, she vanished in the abyss with all souls onboard except for two. Bassel Aga of Lattakia and Khodr Yahia of Tartous, were the only two survivors who made it to shore in the freezing water and the giant swells. They stayed afloat by sheer strong will and an extraordinary twist of fate as they were on deck the moment tragedy struck. Semi-conscious, they lied exhausted on the beach until they were later rescued and transported to hospital.

This is a repeat and devastating blow we suffer year after year before Tartous goes into a stupefied rendition of mourning. There are no faces to take a last look at, no bodies to burry, no tombstones to sit by and cry. Mothers would go on eternally in a state of animated suspension, staring out of windows, waiting for a phone call or a courier bringing a message of a miracle. Pregnant wives would deliver their babies and raise them alone, never telling their children that their fathers had died.

"He might return one day, your daddy, but I can't tell you when", the lonely woman whispers to her little boy behind invisible tears. "Mommy, when I grow up I want to travel the sea like him" her only child with resilient eyes says. "No my son, never, please promise me, never" she pleads. Stubbornly the boy answers with the only reply he hears from all the young men in the family, "I can't mom, I'm a Tartoussi and I would drown if I step out of the sea".

"Haj Ismail" sunk with 9 other vessels of various flags in the exact same area around the Straight of Kerch on Sunday the 11th of November, 2007. All her seamen were less than 33 years old with a couple of them in their teens still. Some were only sons, others expecting fathers and many not even married yet. A few of her young boys were neighbors I always see when they are onshore.

How can I find it in me to pray for their souls to rest when their families aspire for their return? Is there any solace that they died doing what they loved best? Are they swimming with the mermaids in an emerald sea or looking from the blue of the sky above?

Tartous continues to wait.

Lost at Sea, November 11, 2007 (Walid Mohamad Sabra, Fawaz Mohamad Khaled, Abdul Kader Mustafa Hindi, Ahmad Mustafa Latesh, Ahmad Khaled Monem, Abdallah Asaad Tohme, Mohamad Asaad Ayash, Mohamad Adnan Sayed, Nasser Mahmoud Tohme, Diaa Subhi Abdul Halim Mohamad, Abdul Aziz Jbaret Allah Hasan, Faysal Ahmad Rajab, Housam Haytham Khalil, Hassan Mustafa Zein and Mounir Aziz Abbas)


Dubai Jazz said…
allah yerhamon...

نحسبهم عند الله شهداء...

is there anyway these accidents could be avoided?
Abufares said…
@Dubai Jazz
Well, I hate to give an answer when the wound is still bleeding. However, statistically speaking, the sheer number of drowned Syrian ships suggest that something wrong is going on. In particular, vessels sailing to the Black Sea run a much higher risk. These vessels are usually old, ill-maintained or have reached the end of their useful lifespan. They are not allowed anymore to call European ports, and by that I mean Western Europe because they are deemed unsafe. Most of these vessels were never ocean cruising ships to start with so they either retire after serving longer than normal lives or drown in the unforgiving sea.
Yazan said…
May their souls rest in peace.
poshlemon said…

nothing can be said to alleviate the situation... so sad.
The Syrian Brit said…
When I heard the news on BBC News, two thoughts immediately came to me.. The first was: 'Oh, no.. not again!..', having heard in the past few years about similar disasters befalling Syrian vessels, and knowing the state of neglect our commercial fleet must be in...
The second thought was:'I bet most of these poor sailors are from the same town, even the same neighbourhood.. I wonder if any of them were from Tartous, and whether Abu Fares might know them!..'
May their souls rest in peace, and may those culpable for the neglect burn in Hell...
saint said…
Abu Fares, bad news indeed. I hope the government or the NGO starts learning to address the safety and insurance issues for those poor sailors. God bless their souls and helped their families.
Obviously the same goes for drivers who also have no insurance coverage or medical expenses insurance.
Abufares said…
@ Yazan
Abufares said…
@ Syrian Brit
The fact that 10 vessels of various nationalities sunk in the span of a couple of hours is a clear indication on the severity of the storm. The Russian PM commented that this has been a once-in-a-lifetime kind of storm.
However, there is neglect and plenty of it in the Syrian Commercial Fleet.
In marine accidents, human error accounts for a significant percentage. Human error includes bad judgment (as the Russian PM initiated an investigation on how these ships left harbor despite the warning of a severe weather alert). The captain of a ship is called Master because he is in charge of and responsible for property and life. Yet, a captain is an employee and he might be coerced by his superiors to get his ass out of port so that he won't interrupt the flow of cash. I'm not saying that this is what happened but it could've. 13 meters waves were reported on Sun 11/11/07. This is not something to toy with. Just imagine angry waves towering over a four-story building then you would get close to grasping what that ship was facing. Add the possibilities that it might have been overloaded and not 100% sea worthy as per international standards. Now this is a catastrophe waiting to happen and it did.
Abufares said…
@ poshlemon
Thank you for sharing. So sad indeed.
Abufares said…
@ Saint
I may have inadvertently promoted the idea that being a Tartoussi Sailor is a romantic way of life on this blog.
However, in recent years and for most young men in Tartous and other coastal Syrian cities it has been an only option. It is true that we grew up with the idea that traveling the sea is a collective dream but today the young men who are risking their lives have very few alternatives to make a living. When I was a kid, that is over 30 years ago, Tartoussi sailors were making much more money on foreign vessels. Back in the early 70's, the average salary for a sailor was over a US$1,000. Today, some poor souls are leaving home and risking all for a meager US$300 per month!!!
Ascribo said…
a very sad story indeed. I later learned that one of these guyz (God bless them all) was the only child of my old math teacher. What's worse, he was on his first trip...

This is a real tragedy..I hope someone someday will learn something out of it.
Abu Fares,

This is a tragedy. Perhaps it is time to hold the owners of these unseaworthy vessels accountable for recklessly endangering the lives of our young men.
Lujayn said…
May they rest in peace, and thanks Abu Fares, for telling us their story.
KJ said…
Allah yer7amhom, my prayers to their families
Abufares said…
@ ascribo
A tragedy indeed.
I know at least half a dozen of the sailors or their fathers. They were all good kids in their prime: "working for a living".
Tartous is coming to terms. A memorial service for all 15 will be held tomorrow Friday 16/11/07 at noon at the Khadija Mosque.
RIP Guys!
Abufares said…
Abu Kareem
Taking into consideration that marine accidents may happen at any time, a change in the entire system is needed. There is an international marine safety standard. It should be obligatory to adhere strictly to it by all commercial vessels in the same manner all commercial aircraft comply with specific terms and regulations. Aviation has a much safer record although inherently the air is as dangerous as the sea.
Abufares said…
@ Lujayn
I hope I wouldn't have to tell another story of this kind.
Thank you for sharing dear friend.
Abufares said…
@ KJ
Thank you for putting in your word KJ. I am almost certain that none of the parents read or will ever read this blog. Yet, this is the least we can do.
Anonymous said…
Note on your post: Syrian Road Warrior,

Mileagris son of Eucratis was a Syrian poet who lived in the hellenic city of Gedra in the Golan (or somewhere in the south of Syria), he wrote this (I am translating from Greek so it is bad):

Why is it so strange
that I am Syrian

We all come from one country
The World

If you are Phoenicean
I greet you: Nadaios

If you are Greek
I greet you: Cheir

and If you are Syrian:

The annoying Syrian
Shannon said…
I'd read about this incident in the news. I had no idea Syrians would be on board, let alone those from your own city. It's a tragedy regardless of where the sailors are from, but I'm sorry for Tartous's loss nonetheless.
Abufares said…
@ Annoying Syrian
Thank you for making the effort.
Abufares said…
@ Shannon
As you've pointed out, it's a tragedy regardless of where the sailors came from. Yet, the impact is deeper, at least to me. The captain, the oldest of the bunch at 33, lived right across the street.
Alla said…
Dear family and frends those seamen,
If you are intersting deads, pleas let me know by e-mail adrilla@bk.ru

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