Three bodies of crew members from the oil tanker MT Pratibha Cauvery were washed ashore on Friday, while the Madras High Court ordered that the vessel shall not be moved out of the Chennai Port waters until further orders.
The ship, carrying 37 crew members, was set adrift by cyclone Nilam on Wednesday.
On its captain’s orders, 22 of them boarded a lifeboat, which capsized mid-sea. While 17 were rescued, five sailors could not be traced. One died in hospital the same day. The police brought the ship’s master Carl Fernandes to the hospital to identify the bodies, but he could not do so as they were bloated beyond recognition. The police, which had registered a case of missing persons after five did not return to shore, changed it to Section 174 of Cr.P.C. after the recovery of the three bodies.
Pratibha Shipping Company that owns the ship blamed the immigration and customs authorities for the current mess as the unpaid crew were not allowed to sign off from Chennai days before the disaster. “The Chennai agent Seaworld Shipping did not behave professionally during this trying time. We were in constant touch with the master (captain) and were providing whatever support possible,” said Captain Avinash Mohan, Marine Manager.
According to him, the shipping industry is in recession and the company is passing through a financial crisis.
“The ship was anchored there like many other ships. There was no question of going into the deep sea to avoid the situation as alleged. Why it went aground is beyond our control,” he said.
The company has hired the services of a ship-salvaging company. Captain Mohan added that the shipping company would compensate the families of the dead crew.
Mr. Fernandes will remain at a defence facility in Chennai along with some of his crew members till investigations are completed.