Indian woman wins top bravery award for dramatic sea rescue

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Media captionRadhika Menon commanded a dramatic rescue last June

Seven fishermen owe Captain Radhika Menon their lives.

After their engine failed and their anchor was lost off the coast of India's Andhra Pradesh state in June last year, the men were left stranded in dangerous waters.

They drifted helplessly for a week in the Bay of Bengal until an oil tanker under the command of Capt Menon came to their rescue.

Her efforts have now been recognised with the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea, handed out in London on Monday.

Not only is Capt Menon the first female captain in the Indian Merchant Navy, but she is the only woman to have won the award, which recognises those who risk their own lives to save others at sea.

As waves rose to 9m and wind speed reached 60-70 knots, she commanded a rescue operation last June that required three attempts to get the fishermen onboard the massive tanker via a pilot ladder from their small boat.

Image copyright Shipping Corporation of India
Image caption The fishermen onboard the Sampurna Swarajya after the rescue, with Capt Menon standing behind them

The Sampurna Swarajya tanker's second officer had earlier spotted the fishing boat 2.5km away off the coast of Gopalpur in Orissa. The men had been surviving off ice from their cold storage after food and drinking supplies were washed away.

"The sea was very, very turbulent, there was a depression... which was stagnant for two or three days and it had intensified into a deep depression," Capt Menon told BBC World News TV.

"It was a very difficult task but we had to do it because if I didn't do that I was knowing very well that these fishermen never stood a chance of rescue, no survival at all."

As far as being a path-breaking female ship captain goes, Radhika Menon doesn't appear to make a big deal of it. She says gender means little on the kind of ships she works on.

"[It is] gender neutral in the sense that even if you are female, you know how to do your job," she says.

"People appreciate you, they respect you, you'll be able to carry out your orders and all that."

Image copyright Shipping Corporation of India
Image caption Radhika Menon is the first woman to serve as a captain in the Indian Merchant Navy

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