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Kerala youths still missing at sea, families distraught

By Sanu George, IANS,

Thiruvananthapuram : Three different families from Kerala have been running from pillar to post for over a year because their sons, all into their first jobs in the shipping industry, went missing just a few weeks after joining. Till date they have no clue of what happened.

The relatives of Sanaj Gangadharan, 26, Febin James, 23, and Pradeep Raj, 26, are knocking on all possible doors – right from those of their local legislator to those of senior ministers in the state and the central government – and have also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for help.

C.V. Gangadharan, Sanaj’s father who is based in Kozhikode, is distraught. His son had joined a Kolkata-based steam ship company as fourth engineer Feb 27, 2009. But on March 9 that year, Gangadharan received news that Sanaj had gone missing a day before – shortly before his ship reached the shores of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“Last April, another son and I reached Visakhapatnam when we heard that the ship on which my son worked had come there. The manner in which the shipping company and the local police behaved irked us and the first thing we did when we returned was to file a habeas corpus petition,” Gangadharan told IANS.

“It’s been a year now. In February this year, when the case came up, the court asked the Indian embassy in the UAE to send a report in 45 days based on the investigation done by Fujairah Police. The period is over and no report has yet come,” he said.

Gangadharan has taken up the issue with Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who sent a detailed letter to the prime minister Jan 1 this year explaining all the three cases and asked for his intervention.

The case of 23-year-old Febin James is no different. Hailing from Alappuzha district, Febin received training as a cadet and joined a Panama-registered container vessel after being recruited by a Mumbai-based shipping agency.

He went on his first voyage April 10 last year and the ship from Mumbai was bound for Singapore. But on April 14, Febin was reported to be missing.

Speaking to IANS, his father J.K. James said Febin’s dream was to serve the country but when he failed to get through to the armed forces, he decided to follow his elder brother and joined the merchant navy.

“Right from the day we received news that he is missing, we have been approaching political leaders to see that an inquiry is conducted so as to ascertain what really happened.

“Since this is a foreign vessel, only Interpol can conduct a probe and we really wish that the centre takes it up because we have received varying reports on what happened,” James said.

He met senior ministers in the UPA government to look into the matter.

Raj, who hails from Kasargode, also went missing April 30 last year while on board a Panama- registered container, where he worked as an ‘oiler’.

“Raj was reported missing while his ship was on its way to China from a port in the US. After news was first passed to the family that Raj has gone missing, there has been no news from anywhere,” said the office of Leader of Opposition Oommen Chandy.

As per rules in the shipping industry, if there is any accident or related issue, a report to this effect has to be sent by the International Maritime Agency to the Director General of Shipping.

“In all the three cases, we are working closely with the Director General of Shipping, but things are not moving as they should in order to provide some solace to the families.”

Chandy’s office said the families have not got any convincing answer from any quarter, except for “routine letters” from the national capital saying investigation is on.

The others who are seized of the issue include union ministers Vayalar Ravi, A.K. Antony and a few MPs like Shashi Tharoor.

(Sanu George can be contacted at [email protected])