Bangalore: A Panama-flagged cargo ship MV Rezzak, that went missing in the Black Sea on 18 February with 25 Indian sailors on board, misjudged the stormy seas, India’s maritime regulator has found.
The ship “underestimated the prevailing stormy weather and sea conditions for safe navigation” when it sailed from Novorossysk port in Russia on 17 February, carrying steel billets to Bartin Limani port in Turkey, the provisional investigation report of the directorate general of shipping has said. Maritime authorities of India, Turkey, Russia and Panama have so far failed to trace the missing ship and its Indian crew.
Turkish maritime authorities called off search and rescue for Rezzak’s crew a week later. Panama may conduct an underwater survey. Meanwhile, families of Rezzak’s 25 crew members have petitioned the Maharashtra Human Rights Commission for its intervention to trace the seamen. They have also sent copies of the memorandum to the President and Prime Minister of India.
The family members have also demanded action against Pelican Marine Pvt. Ltd that provided seamen to the missing vessel, saying the company did not have a proper licence to recruit. The company declined to comment on this.
The maritime regulator has also ordered an inquiry into the Mumbai-based ship management company.
“British Marine, the insurance company, will compensate the next of kin,” said a Pelican Marine executive, who did not want to be named.
The company is blaming the ship’s captain for sailing despite the bad weather, but friends and relatives of the missing sailors claim the company is just trying to evade responsibility. Their memorandum has also pointed out that the ship was detained in Russia after it was found to have nearly 37 defects.
The directorate has asked for a report on the technical fitness of the ship and matters relating to crew from the ship’s manager, said Deepak Kapoor, who prepared the interim investigation report for India. The ship’s technical manager and operator was CMR Denizcilik ve Ticaret AS of Istanbul.
India’s maritime administration will now wait for the safety investigation report that the Panama Maritime Authority is finalizing.
“The Directorate General of Shipping has taken up the matter with the lead investigating state Panama to conduct their safety investigation expeditiously but thoroughly encompassing the piracy and fraud angles, which have been raised and cannot be dismissed till the vessel can be located,” said Kapoor, who is also a technical officer with the directorate. “Interpol in Russia, Turkey and Panama are being continuously pursued through the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) for probing the case and their response is awaited,” he said.
After leaving Novorossysk port, the ship steered a course of 210 degrees heading towards Sinop on the Turkish coast. The master of another vessel, MV Adnan Kaptan, which also sailed from Novorossysk around the same time and took shelter close to the Turkish coast near Sinop, reportedly advised Rezzak to also take shelter. However, the latter altered course to 270 degrees and continued to Bartin Limani, records from the onshore tracking system showed.
To rule out piracy, the directorate had asked assistance from the piracy reporting centre of the International Maritime Bureau in locating the missing ship and crew.
However, nothing emerged from that exercise.