August 04, 2011 03:49 PM |
Time was not too long ago, a ship would go adrift or get stranded in and around Mumbai Port about once every two years, and would then become the focus of all discussion at the Seaman's Club. Now it appears to be a weekly affair, like the "specials" on sale in the Irani Hotel next door, and everybody knows that the special is simply what was not moving so had to be flogged.
The RAK Carrier, an Indonesian flag bulk carrier, is one more example.
About 26 years old, with a history as long as that of any history-sheeter, she sailed out of Singapore on or around the 2nd of May 2011, ostensibly towards Indonesia to load coal for Dahej in Gujarat. She then reappeared off Singapore on the 20th of June 2011, ostensibly loaded, and then sat patiently outside Singapore till the 24th of June. She then sailed out towards India through the Malacca Straits, making good about 8-9 knots, giving an ETA (expected time of arrival) Dahej of 7th of July 2011.
So far so good, but then suddenly on the midnight of 24/25 June 2011, all position reporting seems to have stopped from her AIS (Automatic Identification Signal), including most surprisingly no reports when passing Colombo or making landfall off India, until she arrived off the Port of Mumbai almost a month behind schedule. Down by head, and certainly looking like she was about to go under, conveniently near the only port in India where rescue would not be too much of a problem.
For all we know, the Master decided to go on a short tour of the Indian Ocean through most of the month of July 2011, while the cargo receivers in Dahej waited patiently for their coal. Or something happened to the cargo en route, and after that, it became a very brilliant insurance claim. But why does a ship take almost 40 days to come from Singapore to Mumbai, is the question which people should be asking, and also doing a quick check on what's really in those cargo-holds.
Incidentally, the value of the cargo would have been many times the value of the ship, especially in these depressed days. And the coal would find ready buyers anywhere in the world. But that's unfair to the seafarers who probably fought bad monsoon seas before making it to off Mumbai, too.
However, it is not unknown for ships to go elsewhere, offload cargo, fill holds with ballast water, and then go under. Shipping records are full of such cases.
For example, in the days when trade with a particular African country was "banned", ships would often load oil for, say, West Europe. Along the way, the cargo would be quietly unloaded at a port in that African country, and then the ship and ship-owners would go through all sorts of manipulations to close the voyage. In one glorious case, when a particular ship—on her last legs anyway—was going to be scuttled, the ship sent out a sinking signal and asked for help, and the rescuers found everybody dressed in formals with their suitcases neatly packed.
We are not saying that the RAK Carrier is an elaborate insurance scam. Far from it.
We have said it before, and we say it again—it requires a very simple notice to mariners issued by the DG Shipping in Mumbai addressed to all ships globally when they come anywhere near Indian waters—especially those calling Indian ports. All ships coming into Indian territorial waters must establish identity and purposes. All overage ships (those over 15 years old as per marine conventions) must in addition also provide full details of any and every possible issue including cargo, insurance cover, class and adherence to every possible aspect that makes her seaworthy.
Why would the DG Shipping not do it? This is unknown, but in their 'PAVITra WISDOM', maybe they will do it now?
1) Information on RAK CARRIER movements sourced from:
2) Information on possible insurance issues—sourced from the grapevine.
(PS: In addition, I just saw some TV clips of the sailors from this ship. They seem to be interestingly very calm and collected. In addition, it appears as though they had the time to save and get along stuff like their laptops and stereos as well as all their documents. This is something strange, the Indian authorities need to hold these seafarers and question them to find out what happened).