KUWAIT, OCT. 18 -- John Hunt, the American captain whose U.S.-flag oil tanker, the Sea Isle City, was mauled by an Iranian Silkworm missile Friday, awoke today in an intensive-care unit here after 54 hours of unconsciousness, his face bandaged to cover his blinded eyes and his upper body swollen under a black-thread latticework of stitches.
As physicians tended lacerated crew members at a hospital near Kuwait's oil port, shipyard workers poured over the twisted superstructure of the Sea Isle City as it sat motionless against a concrete pier in Kuwait's downtown harbor.
An American flag fluttered over its fire-blackened bridge tower, raised just before reporters were allowed on board, as Washington was deciding to retaliate against Iran for the missile strike against a U.S.-flag ship in Kuwaiti waters.
At Kuwait's Addan Hospital, the 50-year-old American captain was sleeping when four reporters were escorted to his bedside by an Egyptian medical team.
The physicians said Hunt was "fully conscious" at 2 p.m., when they weaned him off drugs used while an artificial respirator controlled his breathing during two days of recovery from marathon surgical sessions Friday.
Hunt was in "very high spirits," according to the hospital's chief of intensive care, Jalal Ghouhary, and even showed a sense of humor when he told the physician that he did not want to go back on the respirator. "Look, doctor, don't make me a zombie again," Hunt said.
But medical sources said Hunt had not yet been told that the spray of jagged glass fragments that shredded his head and torso when the powerful Silkworm warhead exploded 25 feet below the bridge had irreparably damaged his eyes.
Cotton gauze was taped over his eyes. His reddish blond hair, gray at the temples, rested against the green sheet of the hospital bed.
Hunt's left arm, in a plaster cast from the elbow down, was in traction. His right hand and forearm also were bandaged.
The hospital's chief of surgery, Mohammed Mehrez, said Hunt was in serious but stable condition and would require at least another two weeks of hospitalization.
The doctor said that when Hunt was rushed from the burning ship to the hospital by helicopter Friday morning, he was conscious and called out, "Where am I?" and "I can't see," and asked to be sedated for his pain.
In an initial five hours of surgery, the medical team dug dozens of pieces of glass out of Hunt that showed up on X-rays because of the lead in the heavy marine plate.
"The captain lost a hell of a lot of blood," Mehrez said, and it took more than 60 sutures to stitch dozens of lacerations from his waist up.
Hunt underwent surgery to dig glass fragments out of his abdominal wall and three more hours of surgery on his eyes, hospital officials said.
In a room down the corridor from Hunt, Italian Filippo Tucci, 53, captain of the Sea Isle City before it was reregistered under the U.S. flag in August, also was recovering from serious cuts and damage to his left eye.
Tucci's nurse handed him a plastic container with three large glass fragments, one of them the size of a marble, that had been removed from his eye. Medical sources said it was uncertain whether he would recover sight in that eye.
In a halting voice, Tucci told reporters that he and Hunt had been standing side-by-side on the bridge looking through the large windows. Two miles ahead was the offshore "sea island" loading terminal, about nine miles from Shuaiba Port.
The 81,283-ton tanker was moving toward the oil-laden terminal at about three miles per hour when Tucci spotted the missile right before impact.
"All we could say was, 'My God, there's a missile,' and then it hit," Tucci said. "We received a tremendous shock."
Stunned and bleeding profusely, Tucci said, "I saw Capt. Hunt was on the floor and I called to him."
Hunt replied, "Yes, Capt. Tucci, I can't see anything."
Tucci said he realized the ship was still bearing down on the oil terminal and he dragged himself to where he could shout to an engineer to turn the ship, cut power and drop anchor.
"I could imagine what kind of disaster there would be if we struck the sea island," Tucci said.
In addition to the officers, 10 crewmen were hospitalized. Three Filipino crewmen and a British engineer, the only crew member who suffered burns, remain there.
At Kuwait's downtown harbor, engineers from Kuwait Oil Tanker Co., which owns the Sea Isle City through a U.S. subsidiary, said repairs will take more than a month.
Company officials showed reporters hundreds of what they said were fragments from the Silkworm strewn over the decks and throughout the wrecked bridge tower on the stern. The fragments included pieces of twisted sheet metal from the skin of the missile, but also heavy steel fragments of the propulsion system that controlled its flight path, according to the engineers.
Some of the fragments were etched with five-digit numerals and others still bore wiring and copper coils that one engineer speculated were to ignite the warhead.
The damage inside the ship left no doubt of the missile's explosive power. The missile hit a ventilating tower on the deck just in front of the bridge, causing the warhead to detonate just before it hit the superstructure of the bridge.
The force of the blast blew out the bridge windows 25 feet above the impact point, and the warhead still had enough power to rip through steel bulkheads in the superstructure. Engineers said the shrapnel tore through 10 steel barriers before the last chunk of hot metal dug into a steel wall in the rear of the upper boiler room.