Cadet Tuli woke to the sound of deafening thuds on 2 March. By the time she could gather her thoughts, she saw a plume of smoke billow as the engine room of the MV Samriddhi was burning brightly and strongly.
After having entered the navigation bridge, she found her fellow seafarers fighting hard to douse the flame and Hadisur Rahman, the third engineer of the ship, was lying nearby. The vessel with 29 Bangladeshi seamen was struck by a missile at the Olvia port.
Within 24 hours after the death of Hadisu, the Bangladeshi seafarers, who were stranded in a damaged ship in Ukraine, moved to safety with the body of their dead colleague.
The sailors were taken to a "safe-zone" and later they were moved out of Ukraine into Romania safely.
While reaching out to The Business through a social media platform, Tuli recounted agonising tales of their days spent in uncertain anxiety.
Their 13-day long breathtaking journey is finally going to end as they will reach home on Wednesday noon.
"A flight of Turkish Airlines carrying them will take off from Romanian capital Bucharest at 10 pm on Tuesday night," Daud Ali, Bangladeshi ambassador to Romania, told The Business Standard.
The flight will first arrive in Istanbul from Bucharest. From there the sailors will reach Shahjalal International Airport via Dubai on Wednesday noon, he also said.
While narrating their harrowing experience, the sailors said they spent more than 39 hours holed up in bunkers, surviving on dates, oranges, biscuits and boiled wheat.
"We regained a little hope of survival after we moved to the bunkers," sailor Atikur Rahman Munna said.
Another seafarer Salman Sami said, "We stayed two days in the bunkers until Friday and later we started for Moldova in a bus."
On 5 March at 8 pm, they reached Moldova. "We had to wait about four hours for immigration as Moldova's immigration was struggling to cope with the influx of people fleeing Ukraine. Romanian embassy officials received us there," he noted.
"Later on Sunday at 8 am we entered Romania and had breakfast in a town near the border. During that time, our first feeling was that we are getting back a new life,"said Salman Sami.
After a long journey of two days, the sailors reached Romania at 4:15 pm on 6 March, Bangladesh time. Arrangements were made for them to stay at a local hotel, the Bangladeshi ambassador to Romania said.
"The sailors were brought to Bucharest from the Moldova-Romania border on a bus hired by our embassy. All the sailors are in good health despite the long journey," he said.
Agonising tale of days spent in uncertainty
"Rescue us immediately, please convince the government for a prompt evacuation, we are very close to dying, we no longer want to stay on the vessel." These are some of the distress calls by 28 stranded Bangladeshi sailors at a Ukrainian port following the death of a colleague on 2 March night.
Until that night, the seamen had been talking to Bangladeshi media over their safety concerns on condition of anonymity. But the death of their colleague Hadisur Rahman – a third engineer of the ship Banglar Samriddhi – in a shelling has changed the situation, as more and more videos by the trapped seamen surfaced online.
TBS talked to four of the sailors over the phone, who said a few of the shipping crew were hurt in Wednesday shelling, while the rest were well.
The bulk carrier, owned by the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation, reached the port of Olvia on 22 February, as it was scheduled to carry ceramic raw material from Ukraine to Italy. On 24 February, Russia attacked Ukraine leading to the ship stranded at the port.
On 2 March night, a shell struck the vessel destroying the bridge of the ship where Hadisur was on duty. "The shelling prompted a massive fire," Capt Md Anam Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Merchant Marine Officers' Association, told TBS.
According to Ukrainian news agency Kurds Global, two tugboats approached the bulk carrier after the 2 March attack.
But Banglar Samriddhi captain did not allow the crew to leave the vessel. "We are going to die anyway. Even after that, I do not understand why did the captain bar us from leaving the vessel," one of the mariners told TBS.
Could the vessel avert the situation?
Former sailors say Banglar Samriddhi had enough time to leave the Ukrainian port even after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But it did not, possibly due to a "commercial pressure".
According to the global ship tracking website Marine Traffic, there were 24 ships at the port of Olvia at 3pm [Bangladesh time] on 27 February. At 4 pm on 3 March (Thursday), only 8 ships were anchored there. Even a ship that was just at the southside of the Bangladeshi ship on 27 February was not found there on the day.
Questions arise as to why the Bangladeshi vessel could not leave the port while the other ships did.
Captain Abdullah al Mahmud, an expert mariner, said, "The reason for not leaving the port may be 'commercial pressure'. Maybe there were some cargoes on the ship that had to be unloaded and the ship was waiting for it. Or, the captain might have been hoping that the situation would get better."
Pijush Dutta, executive director (Commercial) of the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation, said they thought the situation would get better as there had been talks between Russia and Ukraine.
"We planned the evacuation once the situation calms down," he added.
Captain Abdullah al Mahmud believes the exact reason as to why the ship did not leave the port would remain unknown.
"The captain or management will now keep the matter a secret," he said, adding, "A ship usually does not leave the port until its commercial purpose is met. Otherwise, there is no scope for the ship to make an unusual delay at any port."