One dead, 5 missing from vessel

What was supposed to be a lifeboat turned out fateful for five seamen, who were last seen drifting away from the port.

Upon orders from captain Fernandaz, the seafarers were asked to reach ashore with the use of lifeboats after cyclone Nilam battered the vessel.

But as soon as the boats were lowered into the sea, the heavy winds capsized the boats throwing the occupants out. While 15 of them held on to the railings of the lifeboats, five of them began drifting towards the sea.

Eyewitnesses say local fishermen were the first to flung into action and saved all those who were holding on to the railings of the lifeboats.

Sources in the Indian Coast Guard said, their divers were unable to enter sea immediately as the weather was non-conducive.

“We immediately pressed the service of our ship Varuna and about 10 divers started search and rescue act from the vessel,” a senior coast guard officer in-charge of the rescue operation told DC.
In all, 37 people were on board the oil tanker when the ship left Chennai Port Trust’s outer anchorage on Wednesday.

While second engineer Anand Mohan Doss (31) of Marakkanam was brought dead by the rescuers, 16 others have been admitted in the hospital. Five are still missing.

The coast guard official said about 15 men are still inside the ship and they have been asked to stay safe till the coast guard helicopter picks them up on Thursday morning.

“We couldn’t employ helicopters on Wednesday evening, as the wind was blowing very heavy. We are searching for the five men who drifted into sea using floodlights and searchlights,” the official added.

Meanwhile, the ship got aground at Besant Nagar drawing curious onlookers to the beach. But due to high waves, the vessel again began moving towa­rds foreshore estate.

It may be noted that the ship was due for periodical maintenance and repair (dry dock) and was waiting at the city port’s outer anchorage.

The ship reached Chennai port on September 25 and after delivering light petrol oil, she left for Mumbai on September 29. But midway, the ship was asked to return to Chennai for dry-docking by its owners Mumbai-based Pratibha Shipping.

Officials were not sure as to why the captain decided to desert the vessel and allowed the seamen to get down using lifeboats.

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