x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Family 'feeling helpless' as sailor remains missing

The search for two men who went missing following an oil tanker explosion last month continues, as does the investigation into what caused the accident.

DUBAI // Relatives of a seaman who went missing amid explosions on the oil tanker where he was working are anxiously seeking answers.

"We are feeling very helpless," said Rakshit Singh, whose brother Rohit, 30, the chief officer of the MT Prem Divya, disappeared along with another man in the December 30 blasts.

Rohit Singh had joined the ship last August, after being married in May.

Rakshit Singh flew from Kolkata to Mumbai for one day on Thursday to ask the Hong-Kong based ship manager Anglo-Eastern Group for details about the search process. No remains or other clues have been reported, he said.

"They say their processes are ongoing and they are trying their best to find it, but there is nothing concrete," he said.

Local authorities say Rohit Singh and a UAE-based worker on the Prem Divya, which was anchored in Fujairah port, are still missing since the explosions, which killed three men and injured one.

The fire was sparked during welding work, and was exacerbated by flammable gases. Such gases are often present on oil tankers but should have been cleared before ignitable activities began.

Investigations are still being carried out by the National Transport Authority, the Indian shipowner Mercator Limited, Anglo-Eastern and other related parties.

On board during the blasts were 24 Indian crewmen and 80 UAE-based workers who were contracted to do maintenance and repairs. Many of them jumped into the sea when the explosions occurred. They were assisted by nearby ships and the Coastguard. The bodies of the three men who died were found on board.

A spokesman for Anglo-Eastern and Mercator said local authorities were leading the hunt for the missing men. That search continues, said the Fujairah Port managing director Capt Mousa Morad and Capt Abdulwahab Al Diwani, the National Transport Authority director of marine inspection, who is overseeing the case.

The condition of the injured man, a locally based worker who suffered burns and eye-socket fractures, had stabilised and he had undergone surgery, Fujairah Hospital staff said last week.

At the time of the explosions, the Prem Divya was not carrying oil. That created empty space in the tanks into which gases could spread. The vessel had received the "gas-free" approvals required to begin welding work from a port-approved certification company, but gas was actually left over in the tank, Capt Al Diwani said.

"There was something wrong with the gas-free certificate. Otherwise it would not have exploded," he said.

The certifying firm did not respond to requests for comment.

Port-approved certifiers are responsible for inspecting vessels and authorising ignitable work for ships in anchorage such as the Prem Divya. The ship's captain must also make sure safety procedures are followed.

By contrast, in dry docks, where ships are brought out of the water and onto a platform, safety checks are done by local officials.

Capt Morad said the Fujairah port authorities would reiterate the importance of following regulations. Depending on the final investigation findings, they might also tighten rules for ignitable work aboard ships, also known as "hot work".

chuang@thenational.ae