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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hit and Run at Sea and out-of-court compensation : Prabhu Daya

I had earlier posted of ‘hit and run’ accident at Sea involving a bulk carrier.  The initial reports stated that two fishermen had died; subsequent reports indicate a higher no. – 5 fishermen having died. .  In that ghastly accident, that occurred 12 nautical miles off the Alappuzha coast in Kerala in the early hours of 1st Mar 2012, 2 fishermen were found dead  and a third one’s body was retrieved from the wreckage of the fishing boat later. Two more fishermen were feared missing.   The trawler - MFV Don No.1 - was fishing in the Arabian Sea near Alappuzha district of Kerala on March 1, when the rogue ship 'travelling at high speed and being navigated rashly and negligently' dashed against the trawler.   The rogue vessel was reported to be a Singapore flagged cargo vessel with IMO no. 9231573 of 189 M length and 32M beam with call sign S6EJ3 - M.V. Prabhu Daya, a 52,822 DWT 2001-built bulk carrier enroute from Panaji to Singapore.  The version of the survivors was that they were resting in the boat after casting the net a little after midnight when a ship rammed into them. The boat, attached to the Neentakara fishing harbour in Kollam, was about 15 to 18 nautical miles away from Alappuzha coast at the time of the mishap.

The distance between Chennai and Alappuzha is 730 km approx and would take around 11 hours – for a ship much more because they have to come through a circuitous route.  After studying the routes of several ships that passed by the location at that time, the coast guard summoned Prabhu Daya to Chennai for an investigation.   Curiously enough, when the vessel was off the Trincomalee coast on its way to Chennai, a crew member fell into the sea. He was rescued by a fishing trawler and taken to a hospital inSri Lanka. It remains unclear if it was an accident or a suicide attempt.

Much analysis was done at Chennai and it was stated that the vessel  had made some unusual diversions near the accident location, as revealed by the  electronic charts prepared by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG).  Other  data from the voyage data recorder (VDR), global positioning systems (GPS) and automatic identification systems (AIS)” were also analysed and after interrogation at Chennai, the suspicion was strengthened.  It was also reported that the  scrape marks  found on the hull of the ship during the inspection and the  underwater study of the vessel by the Navy could conclusively nail its involvement in the accident. 

After the incident at sea, the Ambalapuzha police in Alappuzha district registered a case first against the unidentified ship under sections of 304-a (causing death by negligence), 280 (rash driving of a vessel) and 377 (causing hurt by act endangering life and safety of others).  Subsequently,  Madras high court  ordered the arrest of Prabhu Daya, after the trawler's owner invoked the court's admiralty jurisdiction and sought the court  order for the arrest and sale of the vessel. 

In the petition it was stated that all the seven crew members aboard the vessel were thrown into the sea. Ship's captain Gordon Charles Pereira and seaman Chauhan Mayur Virendra Kumar jointly filed anticipatory bail petitions in the high court, apprehending arrest. The captain said investigating officials had ignored the presence of a tanker - MT Grade Victoria, flying the Panamian flag - which was present in the vicinity of the collision.  Later Kerala Police arrested the Captain.

There was some drama as even after  Pereira was taken into custody, he could not be brought to the shore as the Chennai Port Trust (CPT) raised objection saying it would leave the vessel at outer anchorage without a captain.  The Captain was later moved to the Alappuzha sub-jail. Three persons were accused in the case and the first accused was the Second Officer who allegedly fell overboard off the Trincomalee coast.

Later there were reports that the Ship Owners successfully negotiated out of court settlement with the dependents of those dead.  Newspaper reports suggest an amount closer to Rs.25 lakhs for each of the 5 victims was agreed upon as compensation and that they would be filing a joint application before the Kerala High Court that the compensation was made out-of-court.  What will happen to the criminal case remains to be seen.

Sure the dependents of the deceased succour but money can never compensate and human life can never be compensated by monetary value.

With regards
S. Sampathkumar.
Made on 30th Mar 12 and posted on the blog now.

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