By the time 22 Pakistani sailors had made it to safe harbor off the tip of Texas on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1998, they had no fuel, no power, no water, no passports, and were starving. They had been surviving on one hope — to make it to U.S. waters.
The 740 foot cargo ship, the Delta Pride, and her crew were shipping bauxite for their Pakistani employer, Tri Star Shipping. Suddenly, they were left to fend for themselves in a Mexican port when Tri Star went bankrupt and severed their radio connection. Mexican shipping agents gave the crew some food and water, but took their passports and ship’s papers as collateral until harbor fees were paid, which effectively marooned the ship. For more than five months the crew lived on rainwater, boiled rice and the few fish they could pull up via milk crate.
Dying without any water, anchored at open sea with no one to help them, the Muslim crew began to pray. Captain Maqsood Ahmed tells what happened next. “Because we prayed to God, He sent Hurricane Mitch to us and brought many tons of water and fish! For many people the hurricane was very bad, but for us it was a blessing.”
Then the captain found a ten dollar bill in his drawer. “I don’t know how it got there. I had no money for many months!” Instantly the words,“ In God We Trust” caught his eyes. “I never paid any attention to these words but this time they were so attracting to me. I felt in my heart that this was the answer to my prayer, like advice from God…go to the United States and people can help you out there.”
By buckets they amassed the dregs of low fuel tanks and fired a torch to heat the heavy fuel to get them started. Two days into the journey they had so many problems with the generator the captain wanted to turn back. But the engineer said, “No. We’ll keep these engines running.”
“It was a real escape story!” said Captain Eddie Max Stovall, III, from Port Isabel, Texas, who heard their pleas for help on Thanksgiving Eve. He called them back on his radio and within a few hours had turned it into a rescue story. He formed a coalition of locals, the Propeller Club of America and the Int’l Seamans Club to collect $500.00 worth of food and water, which he delivered to them the next morning in his boat. Stovall said they were so weak from hunger, “They couldn’t even lift up the heaving line and the gallon of water attached.”
As a seaman, Stovall’s heart went out to them. His bride’s did too. Just married that same week, she felt strongly that the homesick sailors, who had been away from Pakistan for 18-27 months, should get a chance to talk to their families again. So they hired a radio operator to patch 22 calls home. Ahmed recalls, “Families were crying, children were crying because they didn’t know if we were alive or dead.” The marine operator then called the Stovalls back to say his boss would cover the charges!
“This is just… you know, people don’t believe in miracles. But I believe,” said Maqsood Ahmed, “I believe now!”
Investors were found to pay the necessary attorneys to place liens on the ship, the first step in selling it to raise the two years back wages due the crew and money to transport them back home. The process will force them to rely on their friends in Port Isabel for another 2-6 weeks.
“We’ve Come Home”
For the 36 year-old captain, the ordeal has strengthened his faith in God. He cites the example set by the United States, “Many countries believe in God but they don’t declare it on their currency!”
The ordeal has also sealed his love for Americans. “There’s a feeling that we’ve come to our home. This is a country of immigrants. I’m an immigrant here! (laughter) The people are so loving and so caring.”
“We found more friendly people here than in other countries. More open-hearted. They cooked their food from home and local churches brought it. …And because I came in very desperate conditions, I had nothing to give them except my love.”