By SKSN Jeremy Henthorne
This is the third in a three part series from SN Henthorne detailing his experiences during the Somali rescue operation last June.
A report comes in from our boarding team that it is a boat full of starving men, women, and children. None of them were armed and they looked like they had been out there for at least two or three days with no food or water. At this point the situation is being assessed and it was determined that this was a boat of people trying to flee Somalia and head to anywhere but where they came from. Very few of them spoke English and our boarding team members were trying to find out any information they could about these people. Our supply officer gave the order to break out food and water and prepare it to be sent to the ship immediately. As the boarding team came back for food and water they reported that there were at least two dead and five or so sick. The decision was then made to drop the food and water off and bring the sick to our ship for care. Then the Officer of the Deck stood down my watch.
Now that I have seen what is really going on, I couldn’t just go back to enjoying my Sunday; this couldn’t be more than a thirty foot boat packed with seventy men, women, and children. None were in the best of health and all were starving and thirsty. While some of the others from my watch went below to help cook dinner, I decided to stay behind and offer my further assistance. They asked for some volunteers to help use the special open topped litter to rescue personnel from the water. There had to have been at least fifteen of us on the line to pull up the cage from the water line. At the same time we were manning up the medical team and those Sailors who were trained to help during time of medical emergencies. A triage tent was being set up on the forecastle. It was erected and pads were laid out to keep anyone who may lay on it from laying directly on the non-skid surface. Medical supplies and water as well as blankets were all brought up for the sick that were being transported over.
We were then given the order to pull on the line to bring the first of the sick Somalis onboard. As we slowly heaved in, it felt like there was a three hundred pound man on the end of the line. When we finally got the first man onboard we saw for the first time just how small these men were. As we pulled the second on board it was a lot easier as they found that the first one had the rope chafing on the side of the ship. As we pulled each of the remaining sick onboard we would all look in amazement as we felt there was no one in the baskets. These poor men were all so thin, barely conscious, and had shallow breathing. Our Corpsmen onboard and the extra hands trained to be able to help all assessed each of the sick and noted the symptoms and problems they each had.
I went below to eat. I still felt this gut feeling that I needed to help even if I could only help indirectly. So when I finished my dinner I headed back up to the forecastle to see what I could do. When I got up there I asked where I could help out. At that time there wasn’t much anyone other than the medics and boarding team could really do to actively assist. So I relieved one of my shipmates who had been on communications this whole time and hadn’t had the chance to eat. When he came back to get on communications again I asked if there was anyone else on the bridge who hadn’t had a relief to go eat. So I went up to the pilot house to relieve the man on watch up there so he could eat. Meanwhile, the corpsmen were on the forecastle working hard to keep these poor men alive.
When I was relieved of my watch for the evening I decided that there had to be something I could do to help. When I arrived on the forecastle there was only about fifteen other people up there as opposed to the thirty or forty earlier. We all did what we could to help assist the medics with everything from grabbing plastic bags and rubber gloves to getting water for the sick men. This was the first time that I had been this close to them and could really see what they looked like. The first two men looked a lot healthier than when they first came on board. It was so nice to see them lying there so peacefully. For these men this was probably the first real night’s sleep they had been able to get in a few days at least. There were two others in the middle who were both very much awake. I will never forget the sounds I heard that night. As I sat down to just take in the whole situation I saw before me. The man closest to me, who had been doing so well and moving around and talking with everyone, was now so sick. The sounds that he made would make your spine shiver. I felt so bad for this man, he was in so much pain and you could see it in his eyes. His body was so tense you could see each individual muscle through the skin. The man next to him was laying staring straight up into the top of the canopy looking with a distant stare. I went over and held his hand as he was laying there in pain. He turned and looked at me as we sat there for five minutes but it felt longer. We just looked at each other, no words were needed I knew he was just thankful to have someone by his side at this time.
Go to part 1.
Go to part 3.
27 July 2008
By SKSN Jeremy Henthorne