Investigators say voice data over a 12-hour period has been lost

The Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) of m.v. Prabhu Daya may have been tampered with during the crucial moments relating to its collision with a fishing trawler, as investigators say voice data for over 12 hours had been lost.

Talking to The Hindu, an investigating officer said the voice data for at least 12 hours had been tampered with at two points — at the time of collision with a fishing trawler off the Kerala coast on March 1 and the fall of Second Officer Prasobh Sugathan from the vessel near Trincomalee in eastern Sri Lanka. Despite strenuous effort, the probe team was not able to retrieve the voice data.

Team on the job

A five-member team put together by the Mercantile Marine Department of the Directorate-General of Shipping is probing the collision in which three fishermen were killed. The Kerala police are also investigating it as a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and one person has been arrested in this regard.

The officer said Prabhu Daya had 25 crew members on board and at least four of them, apart from Mr. Prasobh Sugathan, were fully aware of the incident. One of them was instrumental in inserting a pen drive into the VDR that had led to rewriting of files and loss of voice data. Moreover, the main computer system was also infected by a virus and it did not have proper anti-virus protection software, the officer said.

Recording system intact

On verification, it was found that the voice recording system was intact, indicating that someone might have erased the recordings relating to the crucial moments. “Those who have come under suspicion are the Captain [Gordon Charles Pereira], a catering staff member, an electrical officer and Mayur Virender Kumar, a crew member who has already been arrested by the Kerala Police. As they are giving contradictory statements, they are under our scanner,” the officer added.

Mr. Pereira has filed for anticipatory bail in the Madras High Court. “We will summon the catering employee and electrical officer for questioning soon. They are bound to appear before us. Their statements will be compared with their earlier versions to arrive at a conclusion,” he said.

‘No setback to probe'

Denying that the loss of voice data was a setback to the investigation, he said, “Definitely, it would have been clinching evidence for us to prove that this vessel was involved in the mid-sea collision with MFV Don No. 1. However, we have sufficient evidence gathered through the Automatic Identification System, GPS and electronic chart.”

One of the team members said the crew acted in a suspicious manner after Mr. Sugathan fell into the sea, as search and rescue operations went on only for a few hours and not as per regulations that stipulated searches should go on for 48 to 72 hours.