Mumbai, Oct. 15: More mysterious than the disappearance of the ship is the way it was kept secret for more than a month.
Ten families across India are anxiously waiting for news of tug vessel Jupiter 6, which just vanished off the South African coast six weeks ago with an Indian crew of 10 and three Ukranian sailors.
“Had there been an American sailor on board, the ship would have definitely been traced by now,” Anil Kumar Sharma couldn’t hide his anger and frustration.
It was only on Tuesday that he had learnt that the ship ' with his younger brother Sunil on board as second engineer ' had been missing at sea since September 5.
Jupiter 6 ' registered in Kingston, Jamaica, but believed to be owned by an Indian family ' was towing bulk carrier Satsang from Namibia to the Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujarat.
It had sailed from Cuba two months ago and reached the Namibian port of Walvis Bay, from where it was scheduled to reach Alang via Mauritius. The Indian crew spoke to their families from Namibia in the last week of August.
On August 28, the ship left Walvis Bay but stayed in touch with its Mumbai-based manning agent, Pelican Marine. Till September 5, when it seems to have fallen off the edge of the earth.
Satsang was found drifting in the ocean, about 220 nautical miles south of Port Elizabeth, and was towed ashore.
The relatives of the Indian crew are furious with the shipping agent, Pelican Marine, for not alerting them or the Indian shipping authorities about the missing ship more than a month later.
“Sunil had called from Namibia on August 21 to ask about our paralysed mother. He told us he was sailing out on August 28. When there was no call from him for over a month, my elder sister contacted Pelican Marine, but they didn’t tell her the ship was missing,” said 42-year-old Sharma.
“My sister called the families of some of the other crew members to find out if they had had any contact with the crew. It was from her that Rajkumar’s family in Kerala and Satwinder Singh in Ambala learnt that the ship is missing.”
The families rushed to Mumbai last week to meet Pelican Marine officials. They visited the offices of the Indian Coastguard and the director-general of shipping and urged them to carry out search and rescue operations.
“The ship may have been hijacked but it hasn’t sunk. Had it sunk, it would have led to an oil spill, which couldn’t have gone unnoticed in international waters,” Sharma said.
Satwinder, whose father Sukhwinder was chief engineer on Jupiter 6, said: “Much time has been lost. The government must use diplomatic channels to conduct search operations.”
Pelican Marine officials denied allegations of negligence. They said they had informed the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre, Cape Town, on September 8 and that aerial sorties were conducted off the Cape Town coast on September 23.
The director-general of shipping has informed the ministry of shipping and the International Maritime Bureau, and issued an “enhanced group calling” message to look for the ship.
Commodore S. Pradeep of coastguard (western region) said: “We can only conduct search operations in Indian waters. We have informed the South African search and rescue region and the Piracy Reporting Co-ordination Centre in Kuala Lumpur.”