India lashes world maritime body for safety lapses on high seas

June 23rd, 2008 - 6:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, June 23 (IANS) India has criticised the International Maritime Orgnisation (IMO) for the “total failure of its safety mechanism” leading to the loss of a Panamanian ship and a 25-man Indian crew Feb 18 in the Black Sea. The Indian Director-General of Shipping (DGS) Kiran Dhingra told an IMO Council meeting in London last week to conduct an international investigation into the incident. “This would help the council initiate and mandate preventive measures such as possible amendments to SOLAS Convention or auditing system and invest the findings into its ongoing actions to obviate such losses in future,” the Indian official said.

Dhingra also conveyed to the IMO council the deep concern of the Indian parliament which had taken “serious note” of the incident in which M.V. Rezzak and its 25 Indian crew members disappeared without a trace.

“I convey its (Indian Parliament) agitation that we should be encouraging global seafaring opportunities for our countrymen when there is such scant concern for their safety,” Dhingra said, according to a detailed DGS statement made available here Monday.

The 26-year-old cargo vessel, M.V. Rezzak, set sail February 17 from Novorossiysk port in Russia to Bartin Limani port in Turkey, a mere 24 hours voyage, with a cargo of 4,800 tonnes of steels billets.

Prior to the voyage, it was reportedly detained for a fortnight due to a large number of deficiencies, most of which were said to have been attended to before it got the green signal.

The next day, the vessel suddenly disappeared. The Turkish authorities carried out a search operation but, barring some oil slicks and empty life rafts, there was no trace of the vessel or the crew.

More than four months after the incident, the inconclusive Flag State Inquiry has presumed the loss of the vessel and its 25 Indian crewmen due to inclement weather.

However, in the absence of any evidence, the family members of the missing crew refuse to believe in the loss. They are not convinced that despite the IMO’s high-tech methods to track and trace vessels at sea, M.V. Rezzak could have “completely” vanished, the DGS pointed out.

The DGS explained that it decided to raise the issue in the IMO Council “because it has shaken the confidence of the Indian government in its proactive maritime training policy that seeks to promote seafaring as a means of remunerative employment for its people.”

Without mincing words, Dhingra said that “questions are being raised about the fundamental safety mechanism of IMO and every safety mechanism ever put in place by it seems to have failed in this case.”

The Indian delegation urged the IMO Council to initiate all necessary measures, including an underwater investigation, to locate the ship and ascertain “how such a total safety systems collapse could be so comprehensively achieved.”

In its terse response, the IMO Council “noted this incident with grave concern bearing in mind the safety of crew and welfare of the families of the missing crew members.”

The IMO Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos held a meeting in his chambers with “the delegation of the states concerned and the substantially interested state” (India) and requested them “to work in close cooperation in tracing the missing ship as soon as possible.”

IMO is a UN agency concerned with the safety of shipping and cleaner oceans.

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