The captain and crew of an oil tanker have won a bravery award from the International Maritime Organization for their four-and-a-half-hour battle to put out an onboard fire after a missile strike.

The 110,000-dwt Marlin Luanda (built 2018) was carrying 84,000 tonnes of naphtha from Suez to Incheon, South Korea, on 26 January when it was hit by a Houthi missile, igniting a cargo tank.

The crew, organised by Captain Abhilash Rawat, used seawater to try to douse the five-metre-high flames after foam supplies ran out.

The missile destroyed one of the lifeboats on board the Marshall Islands-flagged ship, chartered by Trafigura and owned by a group of institutional investors advised by JP Morgan.

The seafarers gathered by the port lifeboat while continuing to fight the spreading flames that threatened another tank, according to the account of the crew’s efforts by the IMO judging panel.

They finally received help after fighting the fire for more than four hours, with the arrival of the 109,000-dwt product tanker Achilles (built 2008), which had suffered a near miss from a Houthi attack, and warships from the US, French and Indian navies.

Relentless efforts

“Despite relentless efforts by the Marlin Luanda’s crew, the fire reignited multiple times,” said the IMO panel.

Crew fought the fire on the Marlin Luanda for more than four hours before help arrived and the flames were eventually quelled. Photo: French Navy

Experts consulted suggested that they abandon the vessel, but the crew eventually managed to control the fire with the help of trained firefighters from the Indian Navy.

“Twenty-four hours after the missile strike, the Marlin Luanda sailed to safety under naval escort,” said the panel considering submissions for the IMO award for exceptional bravery at sea.

“The panel was of the view that the exceptional bravery, leadership and determination of Captain Rawat and his crew, along with the crucial support from the assisting naval forces, were pivotal in ensuring the safety of the crew, saving the ship and preventing a potential environmental disaster.”

The exceptional bravery award was also given to Captain Jorge Fernando Galaviz Fuentes and the crew of the 471-gt tug Pemex Maya (built 2017) for rescuing six shipwrecked people from four vessels during a hurricane.

At the peak of the hurricane off Mexico’s Pacific coast in October 2023, winds exceeded 300 km/h and waves were more than five metres high.

Despite the torrid conditions, the tug left the comparative safety of a bay to help others, and the crew members spotted the lights from three people in the water.

They were pulled to safety and soon afterwards, the tug crew rescued a fourth person clinging to a piece of wood, without a life jacket.

Two more people were rescued an hour later. All six people were exhausted and suffering from shock but without major injury.

The panel said the “courageous and timely actions” of the crew ensured the survival of the six people despite great personal risk to themselves.

The panel of senior IMO officials announced a further 17 commendations for acts of heroism. The IMO Council, the main executive organ, will be asked to confirm the awards when it meets in November.