The Madras High Court on Monday rejected a plea by the captain of m.v Prabhu Daya, suspected to have been involved in an accident with a fishing vessel off the Kerala coast on March 1, that the enquiry be done on board the ship.

The incident resulted in the death of five persons. The ship is now anchored in the high seas, 2.4 nautical miles from the Chennai shore. The court had already ordered the arrest of the ship.

In the petition, the captain, Gordon Charles Pereira (48) prayed for a direction to the police and other authorities to conduct the enquiry on board the ship.

Rejecting the plea, Justice M.M. Sundresh said admittedly two complaints have been registered by the Kerala police. The co-accused had been arrested and taken into custody.

Hence, the captain could not insist that he should be interrogated in Chennai, merely because the ship was here. Investigation was in a preliminary stage. When the co-accused had been arrested and investigation was on, the police could not be expected to conduct further probe in a piecemeal manner in Chennai.

The Judge said in view of the allegations made, the petitioner could not be asked to stay away. Moreover, what was sought for in the petition was inter-State anticipatory bail. Hence, the petitioner's contention could not be accepted as the manner in which the probe had to be conducted was within the realms of the Kerala police.

Replacement must before arrest

Officials of the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) and the Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) said that the Kerala Police could arrest Captain Pereira only after the owners named a replacement for him, as under the Merchant Shipping Act, a ship has to be manned all the time and could not be without a captain.

Talking to The Hindu, a ChPT official said: “We have not received any information about the arrest or replacement. We merely objected to the arrest, as the vessel is in our shore and we are the custodians of it. Who will be responsible if something goes wrong? We are worried about the vessel's safety and security.

“If the police want to arrest him, let them place him under house arrest and post two to three more officers in the vessel itself. Moreover, the captain is from India and cannot run away.”

Echoing the view, an MMD official said that it was a fully loaded ship and could easily break away in case of a storm. Before making an arrest, the police should ensure that the owners have found a replacement.

“We are also concerned about the mariners in the ship and their safety. If the owners want to promote the Chief Officer as captain, we don't have any objection, provided he is duly qualified.”