28-year-old Justin Kuruvila, from Kottayam, went missing on February 7 while he was working on-board Stream Atlantic.

Malayali Justin Kuruvila who went missing onboard New York bound ship Justin Kuruvila
news Missing Monday, February 14, 2022 - 14:41

A 28-year-old man from Kottayam in Kerala has gone missing while he was on-board a cargo ship, sailing from South Africa to New York. Justin Kuruvila, who worked as an assistant cook on-board the ‘Stream Atlantic’ ship, was reported missing on February 7, IST, and his whereabouts are still unknown. The ship was in the Atlantic Ocean, crossing Durban when the incident took place. Justin had been working on the ship for the last four years.

Justin, a native of Cheruvelippadi in Kottayam, would call his family via WhatsApp every day. But they first noticed something was amiss on February 7, when his mother had called him, and the call went unanswered. Worried, the family contacted the agency that had recruited him, only to be informed that Justin was missing. “Justin’s mother left a voice message as the call was unanswered. Who would ever imagine he had gone missing?” Rani, a relative of Justin, told TNM.

The family alleged that they did not receive any information regarding Justin’s disappearance before they contacted the company. “It was after we wrote to the ship authorities that they replied that he went missing. We received the mail on February 10,” said Thomas Cherian, another relative of Justin. 

According to the family, Thomas Chazhikkadan, Member of Parliament (MP) from Kottayam, has contacted the South African embassy regarding Justin’s disappearance. The ship is scheduled to arrive in New York in the last week of February, and the MP is said to have gotten in touch with concerned authorities there as well. 

Arjun, an employee on-board the ship and also a native of Kottayam, called Justin’s family after they reached out to the company. “Arjun told us that he met Justin on February 7, and that Justin seemed happy. Justin had told him that he would turn up for duty that day but didn’t. When he searched for Justin later, he couldn’t find him,” Rani told TNM. 

Arjun also told the family the ship halted for 24 hours in order to search for Justin, but he was not found. “We didn’t inform his mother at first. But on February 10, the agency which recruited Justin sent a message to her to inform that he went missing,” Rani said. Elegant Marine Services, the agency that hired Justin is based in Mumbai. 

The recruiting agency Elegant Marine Services had sent a letter to the family, dated February 9,  where it said that Justin went missing while serving on-board. 

"He was serving on-board of our principal vessel MT Stream Atlantic (Marshall Islands) in the capacity of General steward, and is reported missing onboard from Stream Atlantic since 1700 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) 8th February," the communication read.

It also said that the vessel had left Durban, South Africa on 31st January, and was scheduled to reach Bayonne, USA on 23rd February, 2022. "All the concerned parties and MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre), Cape Town were informed and at the time of writing this letter the vessel is carrying out a search operation to locate the missing GS," it further read. 

Manoj Joy, Community Development Manager with Sailors’ Society, a UK-based maritime charity that supports seafarers and their families, told TNM that Justin didn't report for duty on February 7. 

"One officer woke him up at 4 pm and Justin said that he was not feeling well and the officer left. The officer checked in again at 6 pm and found that Justin was missing. The ship dropped anchor in the Atlantic Ocean for almost three days to search for him," Manoj said. 

Utkilen, the Norwegian company that owns M/T Stream Atlantic, said in a statement that the operators of the tanker confirmed that the seafarer was reported missing from the vessel on 8th February 2022, at approximately 1700 UTC.

"The vessel was on passage from Durban, South Africa to Bayonne when the discovery was made. The vessel was turned around on a reciprocal course to perform a search and rescue operation in coordination with MRCC, Cape Town. Unfortunately, the missing seafarer was not found, and Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre suspended search and rescue operations on 11th February," it said.

It further said that in line with standard procedures a full investigation will be carried out. "All the appropriate authorities, including DG Shipping, national consulates, and flag state have been advised," it added.

Politicians including Minister for Corporation VN Vasavan, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Thomas Chazhikkadan have visited Justin’s family, ensuring support. 

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