Mumbai: It was a dark night, with a waning crescent moon hiding behind cloud. About 30 km off the coast of Palghar, north of Mumbai, a fleet of seven fishing boats in a shallow curve roughly perpendicular to the coast trailed their nets, each a kilometre or two away from its neighbour. They had set out after sunset, and had been lucky to detect fish relatively close by: it’s not unusual to have to go out 140 km. The high waves common on the west coast from early May — before the sea becomes dangerous for small boats during the monsoon — weren’t rough enough to consider heading back to shore.
Once at anchor with nets spread, there’s not much to do until first light, when they would haul in their nets, hopefully full of fish, and head for home. Some men slept, leaving a few to keep watch for large ships and sudden bad weather.
Milan Tare, 42, in his boat Dharti, was awake at 3 a.m. when the wireless set squawked: “Vachva!” Mr. Tare recognised the voice: it was Bunty, in Shivneri, the boat furthest from the coast, yelling the Marathi word for ‘Help me!’ He looked out where Bunty’s boat should be, but its navigation lights, which he had seen a little while ago, weren’t visible. He didn’t think twice. He released his nets and steered his boat into the eight-foot waves, while shouting out on the wireless to the rest of the fleet.
“It took me about 20 minutes to find Shivneri, which had capsized. There was no sign of the crew.” Another boat had caught up by then, and Mr. Tare kept going into the dark, until he heard screams and spotted Shivneri’s 12 crew members clinging to lifebuoys, automobile inner tubes and the polystyrene blocks used as floats. “I pulled all 12 to safety. It was about 4 a.m. We waited there until the Coast Guard arrived.”
Mr. Tare’s bravery won him the National Maritime Search and Rescue award, and on July 5, he will visit the national capital, his first trip, to receive it. It’s nice to be recognised, he says, even nicer that the Coast Guard came looking for the person responsible for the rescue, and that his fellow fishermen all pointed to him. But there’s no question that he’d do it again.
Mr. Tare, a father of two, lives in Satpati village with his wife, daughters, parents and brothers.
After completing his HSC, Mr. Tare learnt the ropes of fishing on his family boat before opting for a regular job on land. “I have always wanted to be recognised,” he says. Having served as a store assistant at a Palghar pharmaceutical company for a decade, he got back to the sea with his own fishing vessel.
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