Panama – Rezzak disappearance may be fraud

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Jul 042008

Senior officials in the maritime accident investigation department of the Panama Maritime Authority have told Maritime Accident Casebook that fraud is still being considered in the disappearance of the general cargo carrier M/V Rezzak earlier this year. Panama and other states involved in the case including India, Russia and Turkey are planning a $1.3 underwater search for the missing vessel.

Nothing has been heard from the 26-year old, 3009 tonne M/V Rezzak or her 25-strong Indian crew since she disappeared following her departure from the Russian port of Novorossiysk on February 17 with a cargo of 2,800 tonnes of steel billets, bound for Bartin Lamani in Turkey. Several members of the crew’s family believe they may still be alive and held against their will and some claim that the crews’ cellphone were working for sometime after her disappearance.

Another ship, the tug Jupiter 6, with the same manning agent, Pelican, and an Indian crew disappeared in September 2005. The EPIRB of the Jupiter 6 was manually activated some 33 days after radio contacts was lost. In that case, too, there were odd cellphone issues.

The Indian government says that the incident has “shaken”the government’s confidence in its maritime training policy. Kiran Dhinga, India’s Director General of Shipping, asked for a re-investigation of the incident at an IMO meeting last month. She is quoted in the Indian press as saying that following her criticism of the ‘the fundamental safety mechanism of IMO and every safety mechanism ever put in place by it’ : “The secretary general (IMO Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos of IMO organised a meeting in his chambers with the delegation of the concerned states and the substantially interested state (India), requesting them to work in close cooperation in tracing the missing ship as soon as possible.”

Engineer Gerardo Varela, chief maritime investigator for Panama’s Maritime Authority arrived in Turkey this week to join another investigator who has been there since February co-operating with the Turkish government. Piracy has been ruled out due to the weather conditions at the time of the disappearance but the possibility of fraud is still being considered.

One of the investigators involved told MAC: “We have not discarded the possibility of fraude, as there is so much information collected which lead us to that hypothesis. For example, a life raft was found with the vessel’s previous name written in the raft’s plastic and not on the outside, where the current vessel’s name must be written. Also, if the Captain knew that there was bad weather in that area, why did he continue to sail in that same area?”

The seaworthiness of M/V Rezzak has been questioned but the investigator says that although a number of deficiencies originally led to the detention of the Rezzak for two weeks, the relevant Port State Control authorised the vessel’s departure after the deficiencies were rectified and verified by its classification society, NKK, a member of the International Association of Classification Societies. Among the items replaced on the vessel was its EPIRB unit, which was not triggered during the disappearance.

Currently, an eight-day underwater search for the Rezzak is planned costing $1.3 and funding for the project is being sought from the four involved countries, India, Turkey, Russia and Panama.

See Also: “Ghostly Goings On – The Rezzak Mystery”