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Surviving Crewmembers of Bulker Tutor Recount Ordeal of Houthi Attack

Tutor, down by the stern after catastrophic damage and flooding in her engine room (USN)
Tutor, down by the stern after catastrophic damage and flooding in her engine room (USN)

Published Jun 17, 2024 4:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

The surviving crew of the stricken bulker Tutor returned home to the Philippines on Monday, and they have given the first account of their ordeal during the bomb-boat attack launched by Houthi forces off Yemen last week. 

Last Wednesday, the Greek-owned Tutor was under way in the Red Sea, bound for India. Crewmembers spotted a small fishing boat approaching on the port quarter, carrying what appeared to be two people on board. It did not look like a threat - until it got closer. As it approached, crewmembers on the port bridge wing realized the threat and urged everyone on deck to get back in the wheelhouse. The two "people" on the fishing boat turned out to be dummies, and the vessel turned out to be a remotely-controlled bomb boat. It struck the stern in way of the engine room and detonated, causing immediate flooding, disabling the ship. One engineering crewmember went missing and has not been found. 

"The dummy was fast. It maneuvered before chasing us. A drone attack also occurred at 13:00 on the other side of our ship," the master, Christian Domrique, recounted at a press conference in Manila.

The crew sent a distress signal, but the survivors were stuck aboard the ship for 10 hours while awaiting rescue. In the interim, they were attacked once again with a missile, Domrique said. They took shelter deep within the hull and rigged up a portable generator to provide light, power and comms while they hoped and prayed for evacuation. Eventually, a U.S. Navy helicopter aircrew arrived to retrieve them from the deck of the ship and fly them to safety. They were greeted with a warm welcome aboard the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, provided with food and medical evaluation, and then flown ashore for repatriation to the Philippines. 

"No one is injured. Majority of them seemed to have experienced battle shock so they may possibly be under post-traumatic stress," Domrique said. "On behalf of my crew, we thank the Lord. To all the agencies of the government who helped us, thank you very much, [and] to our company and to the US Navy."

In an unexamined footnote to Wednesday's events, footage of the casualty shows that at least three individuals on the bridge of Tutor appeared to be armed with semiautomatic rifles. On a typical voyage through a high-risk area requiring extra security, the crew is not provided with firearms, for a variety of reasons related to employee safety and port state regulatory compliance. Instead, a small number of private maritime security contractors (PMSCs) typically embark the ship shortly before entering the contested area and disembark after leaving it, taking their arms with them. These contractors are typically ex-military personnel, often from Sri Lanka or from Western nations. 

In the aftermath of the Tutor's evacuation, no mention has been made of an embarked maritime security contractor team aboard the vessel, and all 21 surviving individuals retrieved from the ship have been described as crewmembers. All were repatriated together to the Philippines.