THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Hardly three weeks after coming on board an LPG tanker, a 24-year-old Keralite seafarer has gone missing in the sea. With the mysterious missing of Kakkanad native Ashwin Kumar raising suspicions, his parents have approached the Union Government seeking an immediate probe into the incident. Ashwin was employed as a trainee electrical officer on board MV Shahrastani --- an LPG tanker ship managed by an Anglo-Eastern Company based in Mumbai. Ashwin was selected through a campus recruitment by the company from the Anglo-Eastern Maritime Training Institute. He joined duty on March 6, from Shenzen, China.
Ashwin's parents claim he had been in constant touch with them through WhatsApp and IMO till 8 pm on March 28. On Friday, some company officers dropped in to tell them that Ashwin had reportedly been missing since the previous day. In a communication to his mother Sandhya Harikumar on Friday, the company said Ashwin had been missing since Thursday, when the vessel was in the sea, off the Mauritius coast. As per preliminary information received from the vessel, Ashwin was last seen on board on Thursday at 8 pm local time while on his way to the engine control room to read manuals. The letter mentioned the staff on board came to know about him going missing only when he failed to turn up for the morning engine room meeting. “Athorough search was carried out on board by the staff, but in vain.
The vessel was then turned around on reciprocal course to continue with the search operation,” said the communication, adding the search, aided by the MRCC Australia/Mauritius/ La Reunion, was still in progress at the site. Ashwin’s family, however, feels there is something suspicious about the official version. They have already approached the Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and officers concerned seeking a probe. “MV Shahrastani is an ‘Unmanned Machinery Space’ (UMS) classified ship. Hence after the day’s operation, the engine room, in normal course, would be unmanned and in wheelhouse control, until and unless an emergency occurs or the duty engineer is on an inspection round. We suspect foul play, given the date and time of missing mentioned in the company letter,” Ashwin’s father K S Harikumar said in a request given to Union Minister of State for Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan.
Harikumar urged the Union Minister to initiate steps to obtain the original Simple Voyage Data Recorder report of MV Shahrastani from March 27 onwards from the company to facilitate investigations. “Other than the letter, the company seems to be absolutely silent on the issue. Though there were indications the search operation may be called off, the office of DG Shipping said there is no such decision. MMD officers too have informed they would carry out an investigation when the ship next touches port,” said Ashwin’s uncle Sampath Kumar. Though the company says Ashwin went missing on Thursday, the family suspects something may have happened on the previous day. “On March 28, Ashwin had messaged his mother about getting his first salary. There was no communication thereafter,” Sampath added. Based on Harikumar’s complaint, the police have already registered an FIR. The family has been knocking at all doors including that of political leaders, police and shipping authorities. Despite repeated reminders, the company officers were unavailable for comment.