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Tuesday, March 26 2019 @ 10:10 PM UTC

Families of missing sailors seek justice

Panama News Chennai - Families of sailors who go missing at sea when ships sink are looking for adequate compensation and a law against ’shady operators’. When shipping firm Noah Marines said its vessel M.V. Diana, a Panama-registered ship, sank on Aug 10, chief engineer Sivalingam’s wife was told he died at sea. She has been running from pillar to post despite her grief to ascertain the truth. Sivalingam’s 13-year-old daughter is bewildered by her father’s sudden disappearance, says R. Pushpalingam, Sivalingam’s brother who lives in the city’s Royapuram area. Similar is the fate of the families of the victims of lost ships Kairali, Jupitar-6 and M.V. Mariam IV. ‘Why can’t they give us a clear picture of what happened?’ a distraught Pushpalingam asks. Courts may be the only recourse for these families as neither the director general (DG) of shipping nor politicians have responded to their cries for help, they claim. The families of the Jupiter-6 crew, which reportedly sank off the Namibian coast Aug 8, 2005, say they approached MPs Suresh Kurup, K.S. Manoj, K. Chandran Pillai and N.K. Premachandran, but to no avail.

However, the Kerala High Court did order relief for an elderly mother of a crewmember of Kairali, which sank about 500 km off the port of Margaon in July 1979, taking with it 53 people. With the help of the Sailors’ Helpline here, Sivalingam’s family has now petitioned the Madras High Court, seeking information on the 47-year-old marine engineer. Sivalingam, who was a shore-based marine engineer, was getting on board for the first time when M.V. Diana set sail from the Panama coast in August.

According to the director general shipping’s guidelines, the DG and the ship-owner are to inform the family of a lost sailor within 72 hours of the incident. The manning agent in India is required to provide the incident report in detail to the DG Shipping within the 72 hours. All foreign flag ships manned by Indian seafarers recruited through Indian manning agencies are, in accordance with article 94 of the United Nations Convention on Law of the Seas, governed by the legislation of its flag state administration. This makes it compulsory for every country to maintain a register containing the particulars of ships flying its flag, data on seaworthiness of the ship and labour conditions on board.

The registering country has to inquire into every incident on the high seas involving a ship flying its flag and causing loss of life to nationals of another state, the UN charter says. M.V. Mariam IV reportedly sank off the coast of Socotra Islands in Yemen in July, killing three Indians - Kuljit Katal of Punjab, S. Sankaranarayanan of Tiruchirapally and Sachendra Kamath of Goa.

Sankaranarayanan was recruited by the Adarsh Ship Management, based in Chennai. Flouting all international laws, his body was cremated on the Socotra coast and his family members learnt about his death only five days later. ‘There are reputed shipping companies of Indian and foreign origin operating in India. These shipping companies have policies to assist the seafarers and their families,’ V. Manoj Joy, Sailors’ Helpline coordinator, told IANS.

‘It is the substandard shipping companies and fly-by-night operators who are a nuisance to merchant shipping in India. They flout all norms and have the least regard for human rights,’ he says. ‘It is high time the DG shipping took action against these shady operators who recruit without licences and bring disrepute to the Indian shipping industry,’ he adds.

Citing ‘great distress for the family’ and ‘non-response by the authorities’, Pushpalingam has sought a court order ‘directing the respondents to produce the body of my brother Sivalingam before this court’. A division bench comprising judges P. Sathasivam and S. Manikumar has now admitted Pushpalingam’s petition and sought a response from the DG of shipping, the ministries of shipping and external affairs, Noah Marines and the inspector of police, Royapuram, in two weeks. The Royapuram police had refused to register Pushpalingam’s complaint on his brother’s disappearance Aug 31. (Source)

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