Mar 052008

On 29th February the wife of Indian sailor Afroze Ahmed called the cellphone of electrical engineer Pritam Singh. The phone was answered and immediately went silent. An Indian called Udaynarayan rang his brother Hridaynarayan’s cellphone on the evening of Wednesday 26th February. A voice replied “Hello” then the cellphone went dead. The previous Sunday, the 23rd, an SMS text had been successfully delivered to the cellphone of a ship’s engineer and the cost of the roaming SMS facility been charged to his account.

Not especially remarkable except that Ahmed, Hridaynarayan and the ship’s engineer are three of the 25 Indian crew still missing in the Black Sea, along with their vessel MV Rezzak since 17th February.

Suspicions were enhanced by the fact that Turkish search and rescue efforts produced several items of survival equipment, lifebouys, lifeboats and the like together with an oil slick. The equipment was marked Asean Energy, a name the ship had not carried for around a decade.

That no bodies or personal effect were found is not particularly suspicious. When the British trawler Gaul vanished in a storm the only debris was a single lifejacket found the following year.

When the Bow Mariner exploded and sank off the coast of Virginia (See The Case Of The Unfamiliar Mariner) the majority of bodies were never found even though search and rescue personnel were on site within hours.

It didn’t help allay suspicions, that the ship’s manning agent, Pelican Marine, was also responsible for supplying crew, who came from the same place as those aboard the Rezzak, to the Jupiter 6 which disappeared with all hands in 2005. Then, too, there was an electronic anomaly – 32 days after its disappearance the Jupiter 6’s EPIRB briefly burst into life.

In that case, too, Pelican Marine exhibited a less than enthusiastic interest in helping the families of the vanished crew members.

Like any other piece of equipment, EPIRBS require maintenance that is often not carried out so the lack of an activated EPIRB on the Rezzak may be down to depressingly common lack of attention to life-critical systems aboard ship. Yes, batteries can suddenly, briefly, come back to life for no apparent reason.

No distress call was sent from the Rezzak, but massive structural failure or over overwhelming of the vessel in the bad weather at the time can happen too fast to send a distress call. Even if the failure did not lead to loss of the vessel immediately it may simply be that in the onboard panic the thought of sending such a call fell by the wayside under stress, as it did to the master of the Bow Mariner.

There has been much talk of piracy. Some have dismissed it because there has been no ransom demand, but piracy for ransom is more a feature of the Somalia coast. Most piracy is little more than maritime mugging – grab the cash, valuables and supplies and run – the curse of south easian waters like the Strait of Malacca, in which case there would still be a ship and crew. The third strand of piracy, in which a ship and its cargo is seized and sold, involves international gangs and big business for whom the $3m worth of steel billets and the scrap value of the vessel itself would be small potatoes indeed, although a ready market could be found in China, whose economy is driving much of the current shipping boom and newbuilds. It would be difficult to conduct such an operation under the weather conditions at the time.

Before the Rezzak left the Russian port of Novorossisk she was detained for 37 deficiencies, which included 11 problems related to stability, structure and related equipment, five related to life-saving equipment, and five related to fire safety. There were three deficiencies relted to propulsion and auxiliary equipment., four more related to navigational safety and one related to radio communications.

The ships class society apparently allowed it to sail to Bartin, Turkey, because three deficiencies could not be resolved in Novorossisk.

The Black Sea is a small inland sea. It wouldn’t be particularly easy for a vessel to vanish but still be floating. However, more advanced pirates will weld and cut the ship’s superstructure, paint it, and give it new documentation, typically from an FOC. Nevertheless, piracy, while possible, appears unlikely.

Fraud is a more significant likelihood – scuttling a ship and its cargo and claiming insurance. It is not unknown in the Mediterranean or the Baltic. One would expect the crew to have ‘miraculously’ escaped before the vessel was lost. It is a possibility being explored by the Turkish authorities and the Director General Of Shipping in India has asked the International Maritime Bureau, a private maritime crime organisation attached to the International Chamber of Commerce, for help, and sent an investigator to Turkey on March 6.

One element of the story would appear to make fraud difficult to hide: crew would have had to be involved. There is no history of the entire extermination of a ship’s crew in such cases, which doesn’t mean it can’t happen or hasn’t happened. A very large percentage of the crew, 10 out of 25, came from one tiny dot of an island, part of the Maldives, the only inhabited island in the Maliku Atoll and the most southerly island in the Lakshadweep archipelago, under Indian administration, Minicoy.

Minicoy boasts little more than coconut trees, a lighthouse and a population of a little less than 10,000. The 10 men who have vanished were almost certainly related to just about everyone else in the community. It is hard to believe that the necessary secrecy for fraud could be maintained in that community.

It is difficult to accept that one’s loved ones, relatives, husbands, sons, lovers have vanish so completely, and entirely understandable that there is a reluctance to believe that the Rezzak went to the bottom taking them with it, to cling to the thought that its crew is still alive. But the sea often takes its own in silence.

To put context into the loss, it is as if 300,000 Americans or Europeans suddenly ceased to exist. For Minicoy it is the equivalent of 10 9/11s, or triple the combined losses of Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined in the dropping of the atomic bomb in World War 2.

Its ‘sexy’ to talk about piracy and fraud, and it’s a convenient excuse to with-hold compensation for the seafarer’s families until the insurance companies pay up, but the chances are that the Rezzak went down with all hands in a storm, a great tragedy for that community, a community that, at this moment, is seeing little help or support.

Seafarers are a community bound together by the risk of work and water. The loss of the Rezzak crew is a loss to us all.

  12 Responses to “Ghostly Goings On – The Rezzak Mystery”

  1. Great. A well summarized post. Don’t know how long it will take for the truth to come out. Compensation by insurance company has to be paid to the families without wasting time further.

  2. […] Click here to read the views of Bob Couttie from Maritime Accident Casebook. […]

  3. This fact cannot be neglected that calls have been received, hence investigation & search should continue more intensively so that we could save lives of 25 Indians.

  4. There are many possible explanations for the apparent reception of cellphone calls, technical and human, and one should be cautious about them. It should be possible to get a fairly good idea from cellphone company records where the calls were received. Cellphones work through nodes, each covering a given area, and the node will be recorded. It might be more fruitful to search phone company records rather than the Black Sea.

  5. […] Accident Casebook also covers the M/V REZZAK listing other suspicious details including possible connections to a number of cell […]

  6. […] Accident Casebook also covers the M/V REZZAK listing other suspicious details including possible connections to a number of cell […]

  7. Wrote nicely, but left the people to decide whether you are right or wrong, as you said you took the last option that its sunk, is I think only a 10% chances, the 50 % is maritime fraud or 40% piracy by Russian Mafia gangs. So why not take a look at a new angle and try to find the people who are somewhere.Help them instead of thinking about the worst.

  8. Regretfully the piracy and fraud theories are being driven by desire, not data and is not fair on the families of the lost men. Piracy in the middle of a storm is simply not a coherent option, as does the lack of ransom demands. It would be difficult to hide a ship like the Rezzak in the Black Sea, which also doesn’t have much of a history of modern piracy.

    Fraud would require the connivance of the bridge team and is usually marked by a 100 per cent survival rate. One also has to assume that the officer aboard the Rezzak were sane, too sane to scuttle a ship in a storm and expect to survive.

    The unconfirmed incidents involving cellphones appear not to have come to much. On March 6 someone dialled one of the seafarers cellphones and got the response that the number was not available, which is what you’d expect if the cellphone was at the bottom of the Black Sea, yet it was taken as evidence that man was alive.

    I’d certainly be interested to knbow how you determine your statistical odds against a poorly maintained ship being overwhelmed in a storm at just 10 per cent.

  9. Трагедия с Rezzak очень похожа на ситуацию,происшедшую с буксиром Jupiter-6 В сентябре 2005 года.Как будто”Сценарий”написан одним человеком(пропало судно,звонки с номерами телефонов пропавших моряков,отношение “pelikan shiping”).6 сентября- уже три года как нет наших родных.За это время все попытки выяснить,что произошло с экипажем буксира ,так и не увенчались успехом. Я,жена капитана буксира Зеленецкая Татьяна Ивановна ,от имени всех трех украинских семей(капитан Зеленецкий Олег Борисович,стар.помощник Булгару Юрий Васильевич,боцман ткач Сергей Викторович являются гражданами Украины,10 других членов экипажа буксира-граждане Индии) выражаю поддержку семьям и готова поделиться информацией,которую собрала за три года.У меня такое чувство,что здесь причастна компания pelikan shiping.Уж очень много совпадений…За все это время мы не получили никакого заключения от судовладельца по вопролсу исчезновения людей(и о комппенсациях тоже не считают нужным говорить).Но я точно знаю,что получена страховка за буксир еще в 2005 году!!!На каком основании…а люди с этого буксира где в таком случае…Очень прошу всех,кто прочтет мой кмменгтарий,ответить,.Может кто-нибудь посоветует что можно сделать в этом случае.

  10. Approximate Translation:
    Tragedy from Rezzak is very similar to the situation, which occurred with the tug Of jupiter-6 in September 2005. As [budto]” [Stsenariy]” it is written by one person (it disappeared vessel, bells with the numbers of the telephones of the disappeared seamen, relation of ” pelikan of shiping”)On .6 September already three years as no our of [rodnykh].[Za] this time all attempts to explain that it occurred with the crew of tug, so also they were not crowned with success. I, the wife of the captain of tug [Zelenetskaya] Tatiana Ivanovna, on behalf all three Ukrainian families (captain [Zelenetskiy] Oleg Borisovich, [star].[pomoshchnik] To [bulgaru] Yuri Vasilyevich, boatswain is weaver Sergey [Viktorovich] are the citizens of the Ukraine, 10 other crew members the tug- citizens of India) I express support to families and it is ready to share with the information, which it gathered for three [goda].[U] me such feeling, that are here participating the company of pelikan of shiping.[Uzh] very many agreements… in all this time we was obtained no conclusion from the shipowner on [voprolsu] of the disappearance of people (and about [komppensatsiyakh] they do not also consider it necessary to speak). But I accurately know that is obtained the insurance for the tug still in 2005!!! On what base… and people from this tug where in that case… very I please all, who will read my of [kmmengtariy], to answer. Can someone it advises that it is possible to make in this case.

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