Thousands of Goans have worked and many more are working on ships across the world but the story of Damascene Soares and Albino D’Souza, seafarers from Aldona, Goa, is of surviving the fury of the seas when many of their colleagues perished.
At 93, Damascene is perhaps among the few survivors of the sinking of the MV Dara who is still alive. It was attacked by terrorists on April 8, 1961 when he was 23 years old.
Albino was a crew member of the S S Britannia when it sank on March 25, 1941. He passed away at the age of 67, in 1973.
So, while Damascene lives to tell his tale, that of Albino can be deciphered from the book: Life Boat Number Seven written by Frank West, another survivor of the S S Britannia.
“I was sleeping,” recollects Damascene of that fateful day on the Dara, “when I woke up with the sound of the blast. There was chaos outside and we were ordered by the captain to abandon the ship as it was on fire. The life boat crashed and I found a plank of wood which I held on to and floated on the water till I was rescued eight hours later.”
“After I was picked up by a rescue boat, I was hospitalized in Dubai and was reunited with my family 12 days later. In hospital, I was told by a psychiatrist that I needed to forget everything that had happened if I wanted to continue at sea and I obeyed this,” murmurs Damascene, adding that the advice kept him away from post-trauma.
“Of the 819 people on the ship, 238 died and from amongst the dead, I think there were around eight to nine from either Velim or Assolna. There was a passenger from Corjuem (in Aldona),” remembers Damascene, who still goes about doing his chores himself.
“I celebrated the 50 years of survival by inviting a Scottish colleague of mine and he told me how he could still hear the cries of women and children and how the incidents of that day still flashed in his mind. In a way, I am lucky for having listened to the psychiatrist and erased all thoughts,” admits Damascene.
Albino’s was a different story. His youngest son Antonio says, “My father rarely spoke about this incident. There was another neighbour of ours by the name of Constantin Misquita who was on the same lifeboat along with my father but he passed away on the last day. His son used to come to meet my father to know about his father and my papa used to burst out crying.” Antonio has kept alive the memories of his father through a design of the ship built in front of their house. “That ship is in honour of my dad,” adds Antonio.
Much of Albino’s story can be retraced from the book, Life Boat Number Seven, where the author says, “the pleasant, comfortable ship with her crew and passengers faced her last few hours and we on board were reminded that we were at war and not on a pleasure cruise.”
In the book the following mentions of Albino can be found: “The Goanese (sic) came from the old Portuguese colony of Goa on the Western sea-board of India and are known for their long seafaring tradition, making excellent cooks and stewards. They are mostly Roman Catholics.”
“Albino my Goanese steward has joined us and is keeping up the fire and the water supply.”
“Not long after we had made water to boil water, one of the Goanese, Albino by name, came over to us and without a word stoked the fire, replenished the tin over the fire and served the water to us.”
“In my diary I had written many hard things of these men, now it seemed that Albino’s gesture was one of gratitude and thanks to us and it helped one to feel more kindly to these men who, in Britannia, had worked so well as seamen, cooks and stewards, but had been completely overcome by the adversity and hardship that had befallen them. I was grateful to Albino for far more than his small services.”
“Amongst my small party was Albino, a Goanese steward, and he soon noticed something familiar to him in this Brazilian speech. The indigenous language of Brazil and Goa is Portuguese……soon Albino and the Brazilian were able, to a limited extent, to understand each other and I told Albino to tell him that another twenty-six men were encamped on the other side of the sandy hillock.”
“We were warned by Cypriano to be ready to leave at 0800, but nothing happened, and our questioning through Albino brought nothing but large smiles and: ‘Amanha, amanha’.”
Albino, according to a son rejoined the company after recovering in Goa. “He went without a medical fitness certificate and was accepted because the captain of the ship happened to be a cadet who was with my father on the lifeboat,” says the son who learnt fortitude through his father.
Whilst Domingo lives with the memories of his father, Damascene is still making the best of life with his wife in Aldona.