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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Indifference killed parents of sailor who died in Cyclone Nilam - Pratibha Cauvery


Remember Cyclone Nilam  that struck Chennai on Oct 31st 2012; it brought alongside a huge tanker vessel, which attracted huge crowds to the beach of Marina near Pattinapakkam.   The vessel involved was : Pratibha Cauvery, a  Tanker vessel of 1981 built with 16949 GRT ; Length overall (LOA)        174.05 (MTR);  Indian flagged with call sign: VWQU and IMO: 7920754.  On that fateful night, there were reports of one sailor getting  drowned and five reported missing.  Fishermen off Oorum kuppam near Besant Nagar helped out heroically rescuing the crew that had ventured out in the lifeboat.  Still cruel fate befell on some sailors. 

The sad plight has taken another toll…….. as depressed parents of a sailor who lost his life in that incident committed suicide.  Very sad to read about the plight of N. Kothandapani (56) and his wife Bharathi (50), parents of K. Niranjan (25), who was among the six who died in an abortive bid to escape in the choppy waters. While 22 of the 37 crew members on board jumped into the sea and escaped in a lifeboat, five drowned as the lifeboat capsized. One of the remaining 17 died in hospital.

Newspaper reports state that in a suicide note addressed to “judges”, Mr. Kothandapani said there was no justice for his family. No arrests had been made. “… nobody is there to save us. No money for treatment and no proper food, we became like beggars. So, we decided to end our life by hanging.” And the hapless father had a final appeal. “At least, save the other five children’s parents.”

Times of India further reports that ~ Indifference and inordinate delay on the part of the Madras high court registry in disbursing the interim compensation amount of 5 lakh for the death of their marine engineer son K K Niranjan drove the depressed parents to commit suicide, advocates handling the case told the court on Friday.

It is stated that though court later ordered the ship's arrest and the shipping company deposited the interim compensation amount, the families of the dead sailors are yet to receive any money from the high court registry. When the lapse on the part of the registrar general G Chockalingam was brought to the notice of Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar on Friday by counsel for the sailors, S Prabakaran, the judge summoned the registrar-general and held a brief inquiry. The judge then asked the official to obtain an undertaking from the sailors' kin and disburse the amount lying with the registry.

"Way back on December 3, 2012, the court directed the shipping company to deposit 30 lakh as interim compensation. Though the money was supposed to have been distributed equally among the kin of the six killed sailors, the registrar general raised a doubt that the order did not specify the proportion. Justice Vasanthakumar, who had passed the order, had to clarify the point on December 21, 2012," Prabakaran submitted.

However, the couple was still not given the money. "The next query from the court official was that to whom the cheque should be handed over, as both parents of Niranjan - father K N Kothandapani and mother K Bharathy - are legal heirs. The mother had to give another consent letter, requesting the registry to hand over the sum to her husband. On February 12, the parents gave a claim letter to the registrar general requesting early disbursal of the amount," he said. He said that on Friday, while he and advocate T P Senthilkumar were waiting for the couple to sign a contempt of court petition against Chockalingam and nine other officials, besides the shipping company, they received the news of the couple's death.

"Only one official was responsible for the parents' death, and he is answerable," argued Prabakaran, after Justice Vasanthakumar took up the case for hearing. Niranjan joined Pratibha Cauvery as a marine engineer in May 2012 on a six-month contract. On September 25, 2012, the ship carrying crude oil and 37 employees on board arrived at Chennai. It unloaded its cargo during the next two days, and set off for Mumbai. On October 8, however, the ship was diverted to Chennai, and it was lying in the outer anchorage of the Chennai port till October 31, when Cycline Nilam hit the city.

It is the claim of the parents and their advocates that the crew members were not paid their salaries and they were starving as the ship had run out of provisions. Despite SOS messages to the shipping ministry and the director general of shipping, besides Chennai Port, no help came their way. On a petition from the kin of a drowned sailor, Justice Vasanthakumar ordered the detention of the ship in Chennai on November 2, 2012, so as to enable payment of compensation to the families of the victims as well as other crew members of the ship.

Six deaths and about four months later, the victims' kin are yet to lay their hands on the compensation awarded by the court and deposited by the shipping company, the villain being the court's registry.

Really sad to read this tragic sequence that has unfolded and avoidable loss of human life which was lost after harrowing mental agony……….

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
23rd Feb 2013.
with inputs taken from Times of India – Chennai edition.

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