CHENNAI: Mystery shrouds the death of a 21-year-old Tamil sailor in Nigeria as family members have appealed to the Union and State governments to help bring back the body. According to sources, Vilfen Lobo Vilgious, who joined MV Helvetia, a cargo vessel under the flagship of Antigua eight and a half months ago, had gone missing on July 26. His body was recovered the next day, but there is mystery over his disappearance and the cause of death.
His father, W Vilgious Lobo, a middle school headmaster in Punnaikayal, said, “I received a call around 10.30pm on July 26 from sub agent Vivek that my son had gone missing. Since then, there has been no response from the agent.” The family members also say Vilfen was about to return in the next 10 days. “Despite working for eight and a half months, Vilfen was paid only two months’ salary,” Vilgious claimed.
‘Haven’t slept or eaten properly’, efforts on to bring back sailor’s body
“Despite working for eight and a half months, Vilfen was paid only two months’ salary. This was handed to him and not transferred to his bank account. Vivek has been sketchy on the details. We have not slept or eaten properly. Already, a week has passed. We urge government to speed up the process in bringing back the body,” Vilgious said.
Meanwhile, Director General of Shipping (DGS) Amitabh Kumar said on receiving information on drowning from National Union of Seafarers of India’s Vimalson, the message was conveyed to Director Communication Center, who consoled the family.
An email was sent to the Indian Embassy in Nigeria and Nigerian federal authorities to search for the seafarer. On July 27, the Embassy reported that the body was traced, and postmortem was being done. The Directorate is in constant touch and has assured them of full support to get the body back, he added.
Vivek said Vilfen was a trainee and was paid a stipend of $300. On allegations that he was denied six months’ salary, Vivek said he was unaware of it and would raise it with Recruitment and Placement Services Licence agent Sailfast Maritime India.
VM Joy of Sailor’s Helpline said a sub-agent doesn’t have powers to send a sailor on international flagship. “Where is the contract and who authorised him to take Vilfen? In the past 15 years, Indian sailors have gone missing in Africa, West Asia, Iran and Malaysia and there is no accountability. The DGS should tighten screws and ensure recruitment is done by genuine agents,” he said.
K Sreekumar, an inspector with International Transport Workers’ Federation said, “India is a signatory to Maritime Labour Convention and the vessel where Indian sailors work should be Seafarers Employees Agreement (SEA) compliant. It is learnt the vessel, MV Helvetia, is not SEA compliant. This week alone, there have been at least five seafarers deaths which is a cause of concern.” Vivek said, “There are clamps on flights. We are trying to bring back the body at the earliest.”
HELP to get body back
Director General of Shipping Amitabh Kumar said that on July 27, the Indian Embassy reported that the body had been traced, the seafarer had died due to drowning and postmortem was being done.The Directorate is in touch with the family and has assured them of help to get the body back home