What really happened on Mission Safeer, the biggest sea evacuation of refugees?

By Our Reporter
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Still from 'Mission Safeer'

Watch the documentary created by Mr Hanif Modak and Captain Viraf Kekobad, one of the owners of the M V Safeer, who is now based in Gold Coast Australia

1990. A cargo ship. 722 stranded Indians. And now the true story behind the biggest sea evacuation of refugees on a cargo vessel. Captain Viraf Kekobad’s documentary Mission Safeer: 37 Days To Freedom tells the story of how cargo ship M V Safeer evacuated 722 stranded Indians from Iraq-occupied Kuwait. Although this incident was shown in a Bollywood film—Airlift—in 2016, this is different as it is the truth, says Kekobad, who is one of the one of the owners of the M V Safeer, now based in Gold Coast Australia.

‘Mission Safeer’, he says in a recent interview, was the rescue mission of a cargo vessel caught in the war zone when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait on 2 August 1990. The documentary tells of how the vessel was boarded by Iraqi forces and the crew of 26 Indians were interrogated at gunpoint. All provisions and goods were captured by the Iraqis and the radio room—the crew’s mode of contacting the ship’s owners—was sealed off. For the next month, the owners scrambled between consulates to negotiate the release of the vessel, with the help of the Indian government.

When the Indian government announced it would evacuate Indian expatriates in Kuwait, the owners sought permissions from various authorities to use the M V Safeer for these evacuation. M V Safeer was a cargo ship designed to carry a complement of 40 Crew only and arrangements had to be made to place additional life jackets and life rafts on board, as a safety measure for the evacuees.

“The 2016 Bollywood film ‘Airlift’ was more fiction than truth, says Captain Viraf Kekobad. For instance, the ship’s captain is depicted accepting money to take Indian refugees onboard. In reality, M V Safeer carried out the voyage free of cost”

“I made several trips between Mumbai, Delhi and Dubai, where my senior partner, the late Captain Ibrahim Modak, was based,” said Kekobad recounted. “To get permissions to convert our cargo ship to carry passengers was a monumental task. We needed permission from our insurers, from safety authorities, from the government.”

On 4 September, the M V Safeer embarked with 722 Indians on board, including 265 women and children. They arrived two days later in Dubai. But the entire ordeal lasted 37 days.

Airlift, says Kekobad, was more fiction than truth. For instance, says Kekobad, the ship’s captain is depicted accepting money to take Indian refugees onboard. In reality, M V Safeer carried out the voyage free of cost and provided food for the people on board.

Kekobad and Hanif Modak ( son of Late Capt. Ibrahim Modak ) decided to make the documentary to set the records straight.

The film released in 2018 and won the the award for Honourable Jury Mention at the 9th Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival 2019 and was selected for the Genre Celebration Film Festival 2019 in Japan and Asian Film Festival, Hollywood, Los Angeles.


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