x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Families hold on to hope for missing six seamen

One of four survivors tells of hearing men's voices as he abandoned sinking Dubai-owned ship, and of 10 days in a life raft with little food and water.

Jitendra Joshi is among four survivors rescued after 10 days in a life raft after the Dubai-owned MV Ocean Star sank off the coast of Oman. Another six men are missing.
Jitendra Joshi is among four survivors rescued after 10 days in a life raft after the Dubai-owned MV Ocean Star sank off the coast of Oman. Another six men are missing.

DUBAI // The families of six men missing at sea are holding on to the hope that their loved ones will be found, weeks after their ship sank.

The relatives of the sailors - four Indians, a Pakistani and a Somalian - are anxiously seeking information on the plight of the lost men, who were on the MV Ocean Star when it sank off the coast of Oman.

The families are in regular touch with four surviving crew members, mostly Indian, who last saw the six men alive while abandoning ship.

The four sailors were rescued by a German ship and taken to the port of Khor Fakkan in Sharjah after spending 10 days on a life raft with just a few energy biscuits and some water.

"We keep hoping for some news from authorities," said Rosella Kennedy, the sister-in-law of Sridhar Sahayraj, 30, a plumber on the Ocean Star.

"His mother is inconsolable. She is still hoping that he will call us to let us know that he is fine. We have been in touch with the [Indian] ministry of external affairs and other Indian authorities," she said from India.

The Dubai-owned ship set sail from Pakistan on June 11 carrying rice to Somalia. It got caught in a storm on June 26 near Oman and started to sink about 9pm, forcing the crew to jump into the rough seas.

Ms Kennedy said the family first heard the ship had sunk - and that there were survivors - on Indian television midway through last month, almost two weeks after the accident.

"I rang the channel to seek more information and realised Sridhar was missing," she said.

"The shipowners did not even inform us that the ship had sunk. If the men had not survived, we would never have known about the incident."

Mr Sahayraj's family has still not managed to contact the ship's owners, despite several attempts.

Kanakraj Xavier, 27, is also among the missing crew.

"I hope he is well and alive," said G Charles, Mr Xavier's cousin. "He and the other men could have been detained by some naval forces.

"We have submitted letters to so many Indian authorities who keep promising help but have not done much. We even met with one of the rescued crew members to find out what happened when the ship sank."

Charles Albert, 37, the ship's chief engineer, said he heard the missing men call out to him and the other survivors.

"We all jumped together from the ship wearing our lifejackets," said Mr Albert, from India, who is recovering from his injuries.

"The strong swimmers got into the life raft. I heard the [missing] men say that they were trying to get to the raft but we could not see them as it was dark and windy."

Mr Albert said he would never forget the night of the sinking or the 10 days on the life raft.

"We did not know if we would make it to land alive," he said. "The sea continued to be stormy and we had little to eat and drink. We were very worried."

The crew rationed what little food they had, living on one energy biscuit and 200ml of water each a day.

"When we spotted the German ship, we sent rescue signals to them and they came to our aid," Mr Albert said.

All four were hungry, tired and injured from the scramble to get off the boat.

On July 6 they reached Khor Fakkan, where they were treated and handed to immigration authorities.

The three others - Daniel Jones and Jitendra Joshi from India and Ahmed Duali, the Somali - were detained at a police station in the town.

Mr Albert was taken to hospital, having suffered internal bleeding after being hit by a heavy door as he escaped the ship.

They were given provisions and counselling by the Mission to Seafarers charity, which put them in touch with their embassies.

Days before the June 26 sinking, the ship was hit by technical problems, forcing it into shallow water off the coast of Salalah, Oman.

High waves near the shore made it rock in the water, moving the cargo and eventually causing the ship to capsize. It sank in five minutes.

The ship had a bigger lifeboat but there was no time to launch it as the ship went down. Instead, the men scrambled for the raft, which had launched automatically on contact with the water.

They were picked up by the German-flagged UAC Sharjah.

"They were drifting on the open sea," said Nigel Dawkins, a chaplain at the Mission to Seafarers who helped to care for the men on their arrival in the UAE.

"They were very lucky to be spotted. It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack."

The Indian consulate in Dubai said it had been told of the stranded men on July 10, and they had been repatriated on July 14.

But consular officials said they had no information about the missing Indians.

pkannan@thenational.ae

mcroucher@thenational.ae