K.P.M. Basheer

10 missing with ship in Black Sea

Islanders not new to such tragedies

KOCHI: People in the seafarers’ island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep hope that the 10 young seamen missing with their ship in the Black Sea since February 18 will return soon. When dialled, their mobile phones still give out ring-back tones — only nobody answers.

Nine days after the cargo vessel m.v. Razzek went missing, while on its way to the Turkish port of Barin Limani from Russia’s Novoronssiysk, hope still flickers in the missing men’s homes. Women wail, and other relatives and consoling neighbours recite from the Koran. Last Friday, a mass prayer was held on the island’s main mosque for the safe return of the men, all married and most in their early twenties.

But thousands of miles away, the Turkish and international maritime authorities have hung up their boots, and declared m.v. Razzek sunken and its 25-member all-Indian crew, including chief officer Mahendran Goplakrishna Menon from Kerala, dead.

The closely knit, peaceful community of seafarers and fish workers of Minicoy is in deep shock. It is for the first time in living memory that the island has lost 10 seamen to the waves at one go. Seafarers for centuries, the community is not new to mid-sea tragedies. Two years ago, six men were lost when another cargo ship, Jupiter 6, vanished in the oceanic black hole. The island community kept the tears to itself.

On Tuesday afternoon, four officials sent by the Lakshadweep administration from the faraway Kavarathi, went home to home consoling the parents, brothers and sisters of the missing men. They read out a message from Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi that promised that the Union government would take all steps to trace the men.

The missing seamen are: Akeelul Rahman Shfeeque Baumudinge; Sameerudheen Donhavvagothi; Asif Donkage Kudage; Mohammed Koruhajige Athirige; Sajid Hajikagothi; Kudage Mohammed Kundiganduge; Shanavas Dadahilugothi; Farooque Lombomauge; Muthaege Bidharuge Hussain; and Hussain Mavadigothi.

A maritime society

Minicoy, with a population of hardly 10,000, is one of the far-flung islands in the Lakshadweep group of islands, though closest to mainland India. It is hardly 100 km from the northern tip of the Maldives, and in many ways, Minicoy’s lifestyle, costumes, culture and traditions are closer to those of the Maldives’ than to Lakshadweep’s. The people speak Mahal, and many of them understand Malayalam.

Mincoy has been known for its seafaring skills in world maritime circles, and the men have been called “born seafarers” by historians and travellers. The ancient traveller-historian Ibn Batuta is supposed to have dubbed Minicoy as an “island of females,” as most of the men were away at sea. Even now, nearly one-third of the men on the island are seamen and almost all sea-liners in the world have them, though not at the top positions. The Minicoy seamen are known for their competence, honesty and sincerity. From a very young age, children learn sea and shipping skills. In all sense of the term, it is a maritime society. The island takes pride that right from the British colonial time, Minicoy seamen have been a key factor in the growth of the Indian Merchant Navy.

Fishing, particularly tuna fishing, is the next important occupation. Since a sizeable number of the male population is at sea, many households are headed by women, who enjoy equal status in society.

Crime rate is very low, and the people, tourists say, are innocent and honest.