Mid-sea hit-and-run in Kochi: Boat crash survivors say cargo ship sailed away after collision

The survivors had to swim two nautical miles to find a boat.
Mid-sea hit-and-run in Kochi: Boat crash survivors say cargo ship sailed away after collision
Mid-sea hit-and-run in Kochi: Boat crash survivors say cargo ship sailed away after collision

Early on Sunday morning, hours before sunrise, there was a crash around 12 nautical miles from the Kochi coast. A fishing boat that had ventured into sea on June 9 was anchored there, but suddenly, a cargo ship collided with it.

The 14 people onboard Carmel Matha were terrified as their boat crashed and started to sink. They tried to swim to safety and held on to anything they could to stay afloat.

The nearest vessel in sight was the one that crashed into them. But the cargo ship, whose name they couldn’t see, refused to help.

“The ship sped away,” says Britto, one of the survivors of the crash now admitted in a hospital in Kochi.

“By the time we surfaced back on the water, the ship had left. It never stopped,” Britto said.

The ship that hit and run Carmel Matha was Amber L, a cargo vessel with a Panama flag. It was apprehended by the Indian Navy before they could escape though, and the naval team is still trying to bring it back to coast.

The captain of the ship has been booked for culpable homicide not amounting to murder; of the 14 people onboard Carmel Matha, three did not make it to shore. Anthony Raj from Tamil Nadu, and Rahul Das and Moti Das from Assam did not survive. While two of the bodies have been recovered, the rescue team is still searching for the third.

India’s jurisdiction

Speaking to TNM, Coastal Security ADGP Tomin J Thachankary said that the accident happened within 12 nautical miles of the Kochi coast. That’s the extent of the territorial waters, and anything beyond that is international waters.

“This is within the jurisdiction of the state government, and the ship is in our custody now,” the officer said,

However, the coast guard have not been able to bring the ship to the coast due to the rough sea, the ADGP told TNM.

“Also, the coast does not have the depth or the capacity to anchor the ship. Only after taking the ship to the coast can we register the arrest of the crew,” he added.

The captain and the crew of Amber L have been charged under IPC Section 304, for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. There were 22 people in the ship, which is registered in Panama City.

While the captain is a Greek man, the security guards are Indians and the rest of the crew is from Philippines, Qatar etc.

Where was Amber L headed?

But even as the port authorities are trying to find a large enough dock for Amber L - which has a draft of 12 metres - there is a lot of mystery around the vessel itself.

A Kochi port official told TNM that Amber L wasn’t even supposed to come there.

"This ship was not meant to come to Kochi port. We don't know why it was so close to the port. After the collision, the police told us that they needed a berth to anchor the ship. That's when we learnt that the draft of the ship is 12 metres and cannot enter the port,” he said.

“So we have asked the agent to lighten the cargo and bring the ship to the port," he added.

‘Safety procedures ignored’

Meanwhile, there are allegations that the ship did not follow proper safety procedure.

Charles George, president of the Kerala Matsyathozhilali Aikyavedi told TNM, “The guidelines which have to be followed to prevent marine accidents were not followed by Amber L.”

"These ships normally go on autopilot in the night. This ship does not seem to have had proper lighting in the night," he said.

“Also, ships that are on autopilot must shoot at the sky or disperse water to avoid accidents. But in this case, the Amber L crew did not do either,” Charles alleged.

“The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Mumbai or Chennai must be intimated after an accident occurs. But the ship crew have not done that either,” he said.

Charles also pointed a finger at the port authorities for delaying the arrest of the crew.

“What was the need of Vallarpadam Container Transshipment Terminal if the authorities are still complaining that the coast doesn’t have the depth to anchor a big ship? The police and coast guard are finding reasons to delay the arrest of the ship crew,” he claimed.

He also accused the port officials of lax security.

“There are around 1000 ships passing through the Indian coast every day, whereas 27,000 fishing vessels are venturing into sea. Both are moving in opposite directions, which increases the chance of collision. In this case, it was the front portion of the ship that hit the boat,” Charles said.

“There are regulations for the ship movements issued by International Maritime Organisation, but here, they rarely monitor to see if the rules are followed,” he claimed.

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