Dubai: When he took his family for a fishing cruise, Lebanese expat Imad Abdallah had never imagined that their boat would sink and they would end up swimming in the sea for 45 minutes and finally be miraculously rescued by Dubai Police.
The near-drowning experience reminded him of scenes from the movie Titanic. “But, thankfully none of us drowned like the hero. It was a miracle,” he told Gulf News while recounting the deep sea horror.
The incident happened late evening on Saturday and what saved them is a phone that worked even after being in the water for over 20 minutes, and the swift action by the Marine Rescue Team from Dubai Police Ports Police Station.
Abdallah, a catering director in Dubai, said he rented a fishing boat to go for angling in the deep sea after his father-in-law came over from Lebanon for a visit.
“He was not well and his treatment had just gotten over two weeks ago. Fishing was his hobby. So, I wanted to make him happy.”
Abdallah took his two daughters in their teens, his wife’s brother-in-law and also a friend, along with his father-in-law for the trip.
Water seeps in
It was after more than an hour into the trip that they first noticed water seeing into the boat, said Abdallah.
“We were in the deep sea, almost 3km away from Atlantis Hotel.”
Abadalla claimed it was he who first raised an alarm to the boat’s captain and his assistant. “My friend also spotted a lot of water inside the boat.”
Before they knew it, the boat started sinking. However, Abdallah managed to make the SOS call to Dubai Police on 999.
“I could not give the exact location. I just said around 3km away from Atlantis and by then, we all slipped into the sea,” he said.
Those were the darkest moments of his life for Abdallah who had to calm down everyone amidst the panic.
“Thankfully, all of us could swim. But, it was still scary. We were in the middle of the sea and it was dark. We couldn’t see anything. My relative was very scared and he kept saying I will die. My father-in-law is 65. My kids only 14 and 16. I had to give them courage and calm them down.”
Blinking phone to the rescue
He said a miracle happened when he noticed his phone blinking in his pocket. “I had lost the other phone and wallet. Only this phone was left with me. I picked it up. It was the police calling back asking for the exact location. I saw a helicopter. It was indeed a miracle. The phone was inside the water for almost half an hour. It had only nine per cent battery. I still managed to talk to them.”
He said the rescue officer asked him to use the flashlight on his phone to help them trace the family.
“I put the flash on and he saw me there. Then they all came.”
He said two helicopters, two boats of Dubai Police and two boats of Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services were involved in the operation.
Police respond within four minutes
Dr Colonel Hasan Al Suwaidi, director of Ports Police Station, told Gulf News that the command room received an SOS call on Saturday about a fishing boat sinking a few kilometers away from Dubai shores.
“Within four minutes, marine rescue teams were dispatched to the sea to search for a group of eight people in a boat. We found them separated in the deep sea after the boat sank,” Col Al Suwaidi said.
Back-up police boats came to the rescue and scanned the sea for the missing members of the group before rescuing them.
Dubai Police provided first-aid to the group as one of them sustained moderate injury and others were exhausted and terrified.
“All of us including the crew were rescued and pulled into the boats and were given first aid treatment. My father-in-law was given CPR also. My relative was in a bad condition. All of us were taken to the hospital. My daughters and I went home later in the night while my father-in-law got discharged on Sunday. My relative got discharged today (Tuesday),” said Abdallah.
Abdallah and his wife Maya said they wanted to thank the authorities for the swift rescue operation and also alert others about the safety measures they should ensure to avoid such traumatic experiences.
“I want people to read the story of the heroes who survived swimming and fighting till the last minute and convey a huge thank you to all the authorities,” said Maya.
“It is a lesson for all. Whoever wants to rent a boat should make sure that it is equipped with all safety measures and trained staff for emergencies and of course they should ask if the boat is well maintained,” she said.
It is important to follow safety procedures and wear life jackets when sailing, added Col Al Suwaidi.
Lt Colonel Ali Al Naqbi, director of Maritime Rescue Department at the Ports Police Station, told Gulf News that people should check the boat’s body, engine and equipment before sailing to avoid tragedies.
“It is a basic procedure to check the boat before going to the sea,” he said.
Lt Col Al Naqbi, urged owners of boats, ships and yachts should take advantage of the ‘Sail Safely’ service through the smart app of Dubai Police.
“The ‘Sail Safely’ service via Dubai Police App tracks sea journeys, alerts users to delays during a sea trip, identifies hazards, sends distress messages directly to Dubai Police and helps with rapid emergency responses.”
Abdallah said it was essential to ensure there is a life jacket available for each and every passenger. “The police told me that all of us should have been wearing a life jacket. We did not know. We were not told by the crew and they were not trained to handle an emergency.”