“I think I got on the wrong ship. I will have to stay here till May… I don’t know what to do…”
On December 2, a 27-year-old merchant navy sailor, Arvind Tiwari, spoke to his sister Sulekha, 25, from his ship off the coast of Texas, US. That was the last time his family heard from him.
A day later, according to a letter received by his family, Tiwari was “reported overboard whilst rigging the Pilot ladder”. He was last spotted on the ship, MT Sagami, at 7:06 hrs local time, when the vessel was approaching Port Arthur in Texas, said the letter sent by hiring firm Elegant Marine Services Pvt. Ltd. His body has still not been found.
Now, his family is raising suspicions on the manner of his death and questioning the lack of headway in tracing the body. They have had no word on his fate for weeks now.
Tiwari had been working for Hong Kong-based Fleet Management Ltd as an ‘able-bodied seaman’ after being hired by Elegant Marine Services in August.
A response to queries by The Indian Express is awaited from both Fleet Management and Elegant Marine Services.
“We don’t know what happened but we can’t accept that he is dead. He sounded nervous on his last call. He wanted to come home… I guess. We spoke to his seniors and found that there were three other seamen when he was rigging the ladder. How can they not find the body? I have sent messages to his seniors to look for my brother on islands near Texas,” said Sulekha, who lives in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh with her husband.
Tiwari is the breadwinner of the family, which is also based in Mirzapur. His father, Rajendra, worked as a driver. He retired after Tiwari joined the merchant navy in 2012. Tiwari has three sisters who are married and live near Mirzapur.
The family said they suspect that something went wrong because his contract was extended till May, which he wasn’t aware of when he boarded the ship. He left home in August 2020 and was to return in February 2021.
“We remember him getting the contract from his new company, Fleet Management. He was supposed to come back in February. Why didn’t they have safety measures for someone who’s rigging a ladder? It’s not safe and anyone can fall overboard,” said his mother Savitri.
In the December 3 letter, Elegant Marine Services had also said: “…the United States Coast Guard is carrying out a search to locate the missing AB [able-bodied]”.
The family said they have sought help from the Ministry of External Affairs.
On September 13, another merchant navy sailor—who, too, worked for Fleet Management Ltd and was hired by Elegant Marine Services—went missing from a ship off the Mauritius coast.
In 20-year-old Dhananjay Arora’s case, the search was called off after four days. An investigation is being conducted by the Hong Kong government in coordination with MRCC Mauritius and DG Shipping. His body has still not been found.
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