A documentary of a true tale of heroism by the crew of a cargo vessel, evacuating 722 Indians expats against tremendous odds out of war-torn Kuwait in 1990.

The owners of M.V.Safeer, the cargo ship that rescued stranded Indians from Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion in 1990, claim that their contribution is wrongly portrayed in the popular Bollywood film, ‘Airlift’ which released in 2016. When Late Capt. Ibrahim Modak’s son, Hanif Modak saw the film, he was very distraught with their portrayal. Shortly after, he informed Captain Viraf Kekobad who now lives in the Gold Coast, Australia.

Upon receiving the news regarding a carelessly produced film based on their own life events, Hanif and Viraf were on a quest to set the record straight.

For the first time in history, the documentary gives an accurate detailed account of what actually happened during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The Bollywood movie disreputably portrayed the Captain of the ship taking money to transport refugees from Kuwait, when in fact the M.V.Safeer carried out the voyage free of cost whilst providing food to the people on board.

Viraf states, “We tried communicating our displeasure to the producers of the film, but we got no response. So, we decided to make this documentary ourselves to set the record straight.”

Viraf claims that while they were proud of this heroic act, they had never dreamt that they would have to prove it by making a documentary just because a Bollywood movie had shown otherwise.

So, what had actually happened in 1990? Capt. Viraf gives us some insight:
It was 2nd August 1990; Kuwait woke up to the unsettling reality of being invaded by Iraq. Shops were looted, people were stranded, and the entire nation had come to a shocking halt. There were Iraqi military tanks on the roads and armed Iraqi officials marching down in different parts of the country. Since those were the days before the age of social media, nobody really knew what was happening. Neither the citizens of Kuwait nor the people overseas could comprehend what was to happen to the people living in Kuwait. While the news of the invasion gradually spread all over the world, there were thousands of Indian families who were holding their breaths in anticipation with every passing minute. With more than 100,000 Indians residing in Kuwait, it sure was a matter of distress for their friends and families in India and all over the world.

Enter M.V.Safeer. A cargo ship with 26 crew members that had come to Kuwait from Kandla Port in Gujarat. It was discharging cargo of bagged rice at Port Shuwaikh and was stuck in Kuwait after the invasion. While it was initially captured by the Iraqi Army and all the crew members were taken off the ship, they later realised that the crew was Indian. The officials let the crew back into the ship, but blocked off the radio room, not allowing the crew members to communicate with anyone outside.

Meanwhile, the owners of the ship, Captain Viraf Kekobad (Mumbai, India) and Late Captain Ibrahim Modak (Dubai, UAE), were left in the dark about the whereabouts of their crew. They tried to get in touch with them but could not succeed.

With the help of the Shipping Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs, the owners were able to connect with their crew and with great difficulty and against all the odds they manage to get not only the crew but also 722 refugees, safely back to India from Kuwait, via Dubai.

A cargo ship, which was equipped to accommodate not more than 40 people, rescued 722 people which included 265 women (9 of them were pregnant) and children and brought them safely to Dubai.

During the journey, every person on board was taken care of. The crew members had transformed the ship by making arrangements for accommodating some sick ladies and children in spare cabins, other evacuees in cargo holds and making makeshift sanitary arrangements. The passengers were provided with light food.

Since most of the people had fled from their homes in fear, they hardly had any food, water or essential belongings with them. Even though the food and water supply were limited the crew did their best to manage the situation, bringing them safely to Dubai, which took 48 hours. Once they reached Dubai, the owners of the ship provided hot meals, mineral water to the passengers and then escorted them to the buses which took them to Dubai airport. The long and nail-biting journey finally came to an end for the refugees and the crew when they finally landed in India.

“Once you see the documentary, you will see what had happened during the journey on M.V.Safeer, unlike what was depicted in the movie Airlift,” said Viraf.

Rescuing stranded Indians from war-torn Kuwait was a joint effort of the Indian Government, various other authorities and the owners of the ship. No cargo ship in recent history has ever carried so many refugees from a war zone, and it gave us all a great sense of pride to have helped evacuate 722 Indians and reunite them with their families free of cost. This voyage has no parallel.
The efforts of documenting their extraordinary feat did not go to waste. After its release in 2018, the documentary won numerous awards in Indian and International Film Festivals. They were lauded for their valour, for their efforts and were celebrated with pride and joy amongst cinema lovers and history fans alike.

This biggest rescue by the merchant navy on humanitarian grounds was was recognised by Limca book of records 2019.

By P Harsora

MISSION SAFEER…37 DAYS TO FREEDOM is available to watch on YouTube: