The 1937 ESKBANK in which the author served as 3/0 before going to tankers.

Prawn Curry

When doing my first trip as a young Chief Officer on the Caltex Dublin a very old and rusty T2 tanker I learned a lot. The Captain was Wally McCullough a jovial chap from Belfast whom I had sailed with before, he too was doing his very first trip as Master, so we were each learning as we went along.

We were on a voyage which was not everyone’s favourite Rastanura to Vizagapatam with crude and fuel oil, A run which we detested because of the heat and the ports involved. Our stores were poor as fresh veg etc was scarce and of poor quality. Thank goodness the T2s had iced freshwater fountains which were a boon in accommodation without A/C. We 

We were coming down the West Coast of India when the Dublin developed Engine problems and we had to go into the port of Cochin for repairs.

Going into Cochin (Kochi)passing close to the breakwaters of the huge port we could see the flotillas of prawn fishermen casting their nets and hauling up lots of shrimp and prawns. Now Wally liked his food and seeing this display and knowing that Cochin was famous for its prawn curries. He was very happy. 

As soon as the Agent boarded, and we were tied up Wally ordered the Chandler to supply us with a huge quantity of prawns to add variety to our diet.

We were only a short time in port and with our boiler repaired we sailed. Next day everyone was looking forward to dinner where prawn curry was the main dish on the Menu. Everyone but myself as I was very wary of anything I ate in India as several years before I had been hospitalised in Calcutta with dysentery.

At about midnight as we sailed down the coast southward, I was called by the 2nd Mate to come to the bridge as the Captain was ill and that he himself was not too good. I found Wally in dreadful pain, sick as a dog and sweating. Classic symptoms of food poisoning. That was the start of a hard day’s night as one by one the whole ships company of deck and Eng. officers except me and the chief Engineer were ill. Some including the second engineer’s wife were very distressed indeed.

I got the trusty Ship Captains Medical Guide out and started going from cabin to cabin with a large bottle of Diarrhoea mixture and sulphaguanidine tablets. Thank goodness we had an Indian sailor in the crew who kept a bridge watch as I rushed from cabin to cabin. The Chief did a valiant twelve hours in the Engine room. I managed to grab a few hours sleep on the chart room settee, but I was shattered too with lack of sleep. Thankfully none of the Indian crew ate any prawns.

Twenty-four hours later things got gradually back to normal. All the remaining prawns had been thrown overboard and we were back to mutton curry again.

It was a salutary lesson to us all to beware what you eat in tropical climes.

Kindly submitted by Captain John Campbell

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