Missing tug Jupiter-6

The Supreme Court has issued notice to the Centre on a writ petition seeking a probe into the disappearance of ship `Jupiter 6,' its crew and other members in mysterious circumstances since September 2005.

The ship was said to have sailed from Walvis Bay to India via South Africa on August 21, 2005, when the crew informed their families of their return to India. They said that according to the agent Pelmar Shipping and Engineering (PSAE) Private Limited and Pelican Marine Personnel Management Private Limited 6 went missing since September 5, 2005.

They said that even after the issue was raised in Parliament, the Centre and other authorities had failed to take steps to trace the missing ship and the crewmembers.

They sought a direction to the Centre to conduct a probe into the disappearance of the ship and the crewmembers and to award suitable compensation to the family members. The Sailors Helpline, legal team is assisting the families of the missing seafarers in this case. 

Click below to Download Supreme Court of India orders relating to the missing tug Jupiter-6   


Sunday, February 14, 2010, New Delhi

Case of the missing ship

Though ships have often sunk and are regularly hijacked, there have been very few vessels that have disappeared without a trace from the face of Earth. The disappearance of tugboat Jupiter 6, which went missing with its crew of 13, has baffled the entire shipping industry and has left most professionals at sea with the mystery. SHALINI SAKSENA tells you of the fallout of this case in point

The year is 2009. It is Karva Chauth and, as is customary, Nirmal Kaur is on her post-marriage fast for her husband’s long life. Only her husband Surjit Singh, Chief Engineer onboard Jupiter 6 (tugboat) which went missing in September 2005, has not come home. And as she finally discovers, he was never meant to. Surjit, along with 13 other crew (10 Indians and three Ukrainians) disappeared somewhere in the Indian Ocean, never to be declared dead or alive. For Nirmal, it’s been four years of fasting on Karva Chauth — with no sign of her husband.

The facts that surround this missing tug (a tug is a ship which tows other ships across the seas) are most singular. First, Jupiter 6 was registered in Kingstown, Jamaica, and was believed to be owned by an Indian family, manned from Mumbai. Second, it was in touch with its manning agent, Pelmar Shipping and Engineering Pvt Ltd till September 5, 2005. That was the last anybody heard from the tug. Third, it was towing bulk carrier Satsang (a dead ship formerly known as MV Pointing) from Namibia to the Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujarat. Four, while Jupiter 6 and its crew vanished into thin air, or should we say water, the Satsang was found drifting in the ocean, like a ghost, approximately 220 nautical miles south of Port Elizabeth, its tow wire dipping into the sea. 

This is one mysterious disappearance that has baffled the Indian shipping industry for more than four years now. What adds to it is the way Pelmar Shipping and Engineering handled the situation after Jupiter 6 went missing. Families of the 10 crew smell foul play.

“I was not at home when a call came from some Anil Sharma (his brother was onboard the tug) wanting to know what our relationship with Surjit Singh was. It was through this person that we got to know that my father’s ship had been missing for over a month. We immediately called the company which confirmed what Sharma had told us,” recounts Surjit’s son Satwinder.

The anger in him is dificult to miss. “I am annoyed by the way our Government has treated the entire episode. We pay tax on time. My father used to bring foreign exchange into the country and in these past four years the Government has not even asked the company for an explanation, let alone order an enquiry,” Satwinder says on phone from Ambala. 

So, while the victim families have run from pillar to post wanting to know what really happened to their men, the owners had only one thing to say – “it sank”. 

“Ships do sink. It is not unheard off, especially if it is old or it gets caught in bad weather. What is missing are the links that led to this so-called ‘sinking’. How did it sink? Why did it sink? And if it sank where is it lying? These are some questions to which the company has no answer,” says Manoj Joy of the Sailors’ Helpline and the man fighting the case for the families. 

“The crew families came to me through a reference. Having sailed for many years myself I realised there were many things about the missing story that did not connect. I approached the company to get answers. Not even one was satisfactory. That is when we decided that the only way to go was to knock the doors of the court,” Joy says. 

The case as it unfolded was full of worms. Newspaper clippings surfaced from South Africa which showed that the minute the ship disappeared (September 5, 2005) a red alert had been flashed. Families claim that had the company acted then and ordered a manhunt for the tug, it might have been found. No such exercise was done. The company claimed it had initiated a helicopter search of the missing tug. 

“How can one air search for a missing tug that has apparently sunk in the water? My brother-in-law worked as a deck cadet on Jupiter 6. He had been married for a year when he disappeared. His wife has no means to support herself. When he had got the job on the ship we were very happy. But then he disappeared and the money stopped. How do you expect a woman with not much education to support herself? It is good we have a joint family and we somehow manage,” says Havah on phone from Minicoy Island, Lakshwadeep. 

As the news spread, details started pouring in. Pelmar Shipping, in order to save its skin, or so say the families, claimed that it had on October 8, 2005, at 12.35 Universal Coordinated Time received a distress signal from Jupiter 6, via its life saving radio equipment onboard, known as Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). 

According to the shipping professionals, the EPIRB can be activated manually to send a distress signal. If a ship sinks abruptly and there is not ample time to activate the EPIRB manually, it gets automatically activated and the distress signal is sent once the ship sinks to a depth of three to 10 feet into the sea. 

So, the question arose – if the tug gave a distress on October 8, where was it for an entire month. Why had there been no contact with it? But, if one is to believe what the company says and the fact that it disappeared on September 5, it could not have given a distress signal a month later. What was it that the company wanted to hide?

“I think it is related to the huge insurance claim. There is rule that says 25-year-old ships need to be scrapped as they become non-sea worthy. The tug was 24. Somehow the company twisted the entire voyage in their favour. The crew has to be kept under wraps for obvious reasons – they know the truth,” Satwinder claims.

This gave a free run to rumour mongers. There is speculation that the tug could have been a victim of terrorism. Sources say there are certain gangs that operate globally. All one has to do is show them the picture of a vessel and gives its name. The vessel will be delivered wherever you want, minus the crew. What happens to the crew is anybody’s guess. Also the company has a dubious record. It is registered in two names – Pelican Marine and Pelmar Shipping and Engineering. The source said that sometimes companies take advantage of this in order to get out of a tight spot. 

According to Joy, however, to give in to such speculation at this crucial juncture would not be right. But he does understand the anxiety of the families. “All sorts of thoughts come to the mind when loved ones disappear. But one should keep a clear head. Our aim is to get some answers from the authorities regarding the missing crew. I will make every effort to find out what really happened,” he says.

Things do not look good for Pelmar Shipping. The company that had known of the disappearance on September 5, informed the Director General, Shipping, only on October 11, 2005. According to the rules, the DG has to be informed within three days of the incident. In this case it was a good 35 days later. 

When the office of DG of Shipping was contacted, Nautical Advisor to the Govt of India Captain MM Saggi said: “The matter is in court, we have nothing to say at this point.” (The office of DG of Shipping is one of the parties against whom the case has been filed in the court).

Strangely, the office of DG, Shipping, does not have a record of the number of ships with Indian crew having gone missing. An affidavit was filed in court stating that as the department was facing acute shortage of technical officers it was not possible to probe the cases of casualty or accidents involving Indian seafarers in international waters. The affidavit was filed in response to a petition by the family members of the crew on Jupiter 6.

To further complicate the situation, Satsang is said to have been recovered from the position 36:53’S 026:29’E. This means that it was recovered from a position which was 140 nautical miles from the position where it is said to have been sighted by the passing MV Poseidon on September 25, 2005. This means that Satsang was recovered from a position, which was 59 nautical miles away from the position from where Jupiter 6 is said to have had made contact for the last time. 

Though it was MV Poseidon that had wired the message that the Satsang was sighted, another vessel had sent a wire claiming to have seen Jupiter 6 on its way to Europe. This is not all. Almost a year later since its disappearance, one of the family members of the missing crew claimed to have received a call from their relative. The call was traced back to Portugal. When they tried to call back later there was no response. 

“Most of the ratings onboard Jupiter 6 are from low-income families. Though they are fluent in Malayalam, their Hindi is scratchy at best. It is not surprising that no one is going out of his way to find them. Had there been a single crew member from a European country, the tug would have been found within days. It is not as if the crew have a relative who is a high profile bureaucrat or a politician. Nobody is interested in looking for these men. How does it matter if they disappear? It is a negligible number considering the over a billion population of our country,” Joy says. 

And, it seems Joy is not wrong. Three years later another ship, this time with a crew of 25 Indians, Rezzak went missing. The vessel was manned by the same agency as Jupiter 6 – Pelmar Shipping and Engineering Pvt Ltd. “The coincidence is difficult to ignore. Now the company has to account for 35 people, not 10,” Joy adds. 

“I am not really concerned about the people who went missing in another ship. All I want to know is what happened to my husband. I have two schoolchildren. Initially, I had no means to support myself. I have a debt of a few lakh rupees. Nobody is there to support me financially. A couple of years ago I opened a small shop in the village where I stay. I barely manage to put together two square meals a day. The company has said that it will give us money but, till now it has not been given. Money can’t bring my husband back. However, it will help me pay back the loan and save some for my children’s future,” says Mary Kunju over the phone form Pareekani village, Kerala. 

Agrees Sabeeha, also a resident of Minicoy Island, who lost her husband Hassan Faikageonly after a month of her marriage. “Money is tight and the company is taking a very long time in giving it to us even though I am told that the Supreme Court has ordered that we should be given the money. I had thought that the DG of Shipping office would come to our help but, they did nothing. However, I have full faith in God and Supreme Court. Together they will help in finding the missing crew. Though the money is in no way a substitute for my husband, it will make things easy for all families concerned,” she said.

After much delay a senior counsel appearing on behalf to the company submitted in Supreme Court, a couple of months ago, that in view of the understanding reached by them with the insurer a sum of US $ 3,20,000 will be made available for disbursal to families of Indian sailors. The officers will get about US $ 40,000 and other seamen will get about US $ 25,000 each. It has been 12 weeks since that undertaking. A final extension of four weeks has been given by the Supreme Court earlier this week for disbursal of the money. 

The families wait. Not for the money but, to hear from those who have not returned.

Families of missing sailors seek justice
Sunday, September 10 2006 @ 11:46 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner

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)

Official of Sailor's Helpline attacked

Sunday, January 21, 2007 

An official of Sailor's Helpline, which champions the cause of families of lost ship crewmen, was injured in the head after being attacked by half a dozen men at his office here. Coordinator V. Manoj Joy about to leave for a printing press Saturday when a young man walked up to him and asked to speak to him. When he responded, half a dozen strangers surrounded him and beat him with iron rods, sticks and beer bottles. Manoj was rescued by his office staff and rushed to hospital. Police said they were yet to establish the identity of the attackers. Manoj told IANS: 'I fear I am being targeted as there are vested interests who do not want me to help the families of lost ship's crews like those from Jupiter 6 and the dead sailors from M.V. Diana.'

Ten Indian sailors were on board Jupiter 6, which sailed Aug 8, 2005, from Walvis Bay in Namibia to India, towing a dead ship headed for the scrap yard in Alang in Gujarat.Jupiter 6 was said to have lost contact with Pelmar Shipping, its owners, Sep 5 that year. Pelmar said the tug and her 12-member crew disappeared without any trace.

Sailor's Helpline has gone to the Supreme Court seeking information on the lost crew from India. Manoj coordinates the resource newsletter 'Waves' for the shipping industry and sailors.

Supreme Court to hear Jupiter 6 missing sailors' case

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Supreme Court will hear Monday a case related to disappearance of the ship Jupiter 6 and its crew in mysterious circumstances in September 2005.
A bench of judges H.K. Sema and P.K. Balasubramanyan had issued notice to the director-general of shipping, Jupiter 6 owners Pelmar Shipping and Engineering Pvt Ltd and Pelican Marine Personnel Management Pvt Ltd on a petition by the family members of the missing shipmen seeking a probe into the ship's disappearance.
The ship, carrying 10 Indians and three Ukrainians as crew, was said to have sailed from Walvis Bay to India via South Africa Aug 21, 2005. The ship's agent Pelmar Shipping two months later said it had gone missing 2005.
Meanwhile, V. Manoj Joy, coordinator of the Sailors' Helpline based in Chennai who was helping families of the missing sailors, was attacked by unidentified people a fortnight ago.
'It is shocking and frightening to hear that Joy was mercilessly attacked by criminals with steel pipes and an attempt was made on his life,' said Najeeb, a relative of one of the missing crewmembers.
'He has worked tirelessly for months in the Jupiter 6 case and helped the hapless family members of missing crewmembers. It is the duty of the government to guard Joy and his family.'
During the second week of October 2006 Manoj had told IANS that he had received a call from Mumbai. The caller said he was one Capt. Anand of Pelican Marine.
'He said he was planning to visit Chennai the following week and he would like to meet me but he did not say why. Somehow the person never turned up,' Manoj had said.
'It is a known fact that there are criminal elements in the international shipping industry. They choose to register their ship under a Flag of Convenience (FOC) and get away from legal tangles and go scot-free doing criminal activities,' he had said.
Manoj was also helping the family of Felix Mascarenhas, an Indian chief officer who was killed on a Maldives ship Nov 15. His body was found with his hands tied and the throat slit open, but the ship management claimed it was suicide when the vessel arrived in the Tuticorin port.
Initially, the Tuticorin police were reluctant to accept the Mascarenhas family's complaint, as the alleged murder did not take place within their jurisdiction.
Only after the Sailors' Helpline intervened and pointed out that according to the maritime law, the Indian police are bound to register the case if an Indian sailor is killed on board a foreign vessel that police registered the case.
'The government is not providing any help to distressed seafarers and their families. It is people like Manoj Joy who render the much-needed support. If criminals try to eliminate people championing the cause of distressed seafarers, no one will come forward to help the needy,' said Subhash M., a merchant navy officer associated with the helpline.

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