Official procedures in Iran are yet to be completed

The body of Dinesh Kumar, the 25-year-old Indian sailor killed when an Iranian merchant vessel sank more than two months ago, is yet to arrive in New Delhi as official procedures in Iran are not yet over.

“The papers are not yet ready. They [the agency hired by the Indian Embassy in Iran] are now expecting to fly the body out on Wednesday through Qatar Airways,” Shamnad Basheer, a Kolkata law professor, who has been helping the distressed families, told The Hindu on Monday.

Earlier, the Iranian agency, Airland International, was waiting for a translated copy of the forensic report, he said. He is in constant touch with the agency.

Shab Row, an Iranian-flagged merchant vessel, is believed to have sunk near the Iranian coast on October 27 last year. Apart from the company Nejoum Al Bahar Shipping and Cargo LLC's statement, there is no independently verified confirmation.

Efforts by the External Affairs Ministry and the Directorate-General of Shipping have not yielded any result since the Iranian authorities have not given any information about the ship which had four Iranian and three young Indian crew members onboard.

“The owner refused to take responsibility of the recovered body. He also refused to co-operate with the interrogation. He doesn't answer any calls is what our embassy in Iran told us,” Saroj Yadav, 24, elder brother of Manoj Yadav who has been “missing” since the ship sunk, told The Hindu from Kolkata.

“Is our government so helpless that it cannot take any action against the company or get details from the Iranian government?” he asked. The family members of all the three Indian sailors — Dinesh Kumar, 25, from Palampur, Himachal Pradesh; Manoj Yadav, 21, from Kolkata, West Bengal; and Pavan Kumar Choudhury, 28, from Basti near Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, have been running from pillar to post for the past two months.

“We have written to everyone, from the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the External Affairs Minister to the parliament. Now, our embassy has told us to write to the Iranian Embassy in New Delhi to press the matter further,” said Raghubar Choudhury, 32, elder brother of Pawan Kumar Choudhury, who left wife and two children behind.

“We have called up the company umpteen times. All they say is, the ship has sunk, and the crew members are missing. How can they not know about any other detail? Were there no distress signal, no navigation warning? How can they get away without giving us any information?” asked Saroj.

Even Amarnath, the 60-year old father of Dinesh Kumar, said he was on the verge of giving up hope. “I have been waiting for my son's body for so many days now. The embassy people have been saying since December that they will send it today or tomorrow. I don't know when that day is going to come. No one stands for us. I just want to conduct last rites… Is it too much to ask for?”

“Our survival has become difficult. His mother has taken ill; she doesn't eat anything. Even I can't put a morsel in my mouth. We haven't been able to sleep for nights now,” he said in a choked voice.

None of the seamen received any salary for more than six months when they were serving on the ship. “He did not get any salary. He told us that the company would give salary only after six months' service. We had sold off our belongings and taken loan from bank to raise Rs. 3.5 lakh for his education and agent fees. Now, we don't even have an official confirmation of his death. There is no word on insurance. All that the company says is, the sailors are missing,” Raghubar said.

None of the family members possess the copies of the contract the seamen may have signed with the company. The three different agents, all unregistered entities, have evaded giving any document to the families. One of them even mocked at a family member when he was warned of police action.

“I told him I will file an FIR [First Information Report] against you. He said, even the police will not be able to do anything to him,” Mr. Choudhury said.

“We did not know anything about this field. I started finding out only after I lost my brother. I came to know that the institute through which he did his course was not registered. Even the agent did not have the RPSL [Recruitment and Placement Services Licence] number,” Saroj said.

“There is a nexus between the illegal institutes, middlemen and the companies that needs to be broken. Such a nexus exposes our seamen to dangers and exploitation. They get sent to shady ships and companies. We need a stronger regulatory framework,” Mr. Basheer said.

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