Survivors of MT Pratibha Cauvery that ran aground on Wednesday said the decision to abandon ship was taken by the captain, Carl Fernades.
“It was not planned, it was done in panic. We had to obey the master’s (captain) orders because we are bound by international shipping rules. The ship was to go to the dry dock for repairs, but we did not receive any orders from the owner,” said Rupak Kumar Mishra, one of the senior-most crew members.
Sailors recounted they had received a message from the Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS) on Tuesday morning, informing them that the cyclone was likely to hit Chennai port the next day around noon, and that all vessels be sent to the deep seas.
“Though the ship had plenty of heavy oil which is used to power the machine, it had little marine diesel oil which is needed to run generators, pumps and support machinery of the ship. That is why we sent a message to VTMS that we were disabled,” said Mr. Mishra.
The Mumbai-based ship-owner, after persistent requests from crew members, told them he would send some diesel. “It never reached us, because they sent it very late and no boat was ready to transport it due to bad weather conditions,” a crew member said. The crew said VTMS officials asked the captain to contact the agent (Seaworld Shipping), who refused assistance, stating the company had not paid them in a long time.
“On Wednesday, an hour before the cyclone hit, VTMS sent us a message saying two tugs had been sent to take the ship to safety, but the captain ignored it,” a member said.
“Using leftover fuel, the captain tried to move the ship but it was moving at a speed of just one knot, because of the wind. He finally decided to use tug assistance at 2 p.m., but it was very windy and the tug refused to come,” said Mr. Mishra. The captain, Mr. Fernades took charge of the ship two months ago.
“The capacity of a life boat is 40 but during bad weather, it can’t accommodate more than 20 people, but the captain asked everyone to get into it. That was how it capsized when a big wave hit it,” said another crew member.
Those who jumped from the ship had to swim for almost four hours before they were rescued by fishermen on catamarans and brought to hospital. However, Anand Mohandoss (31), a second engineer on the ship, drowned before reaching the shore. Anand hailed from Marakkanam in Puducherry and had joined the vessel in May.
His parents, Mohandas and Vijayalakshmi and his brother Sankaranarayanan came to the Government Royapettah Hospital on Thursday morning to receive the body.
Most of the crew members, mostly maritime engineers, were recruited earlier this year and promised salaries ranging from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 4.5 lakh a month.
“But we have not been paid anything the past six months. An advance of Rs. 7,000 was paid for expenses. When we protested, they said the company was going through a bad time, and that we would be paid our dues when the contract ended,” said another crew member.