A cargo ship carrying 14 crew members sank off the Greek island of Lesbos in stormy seas early on Sunday, leaving 13 crew members, including four Indians, missing and one rescued, authorities said. The incident has raised concerns about the safety of cargo ships and the need for awareness and precautions in dealing with extreme weather conditions.
Cargo Ship Sinks in Stormy Seas off Greek Island
13 Crew Members Missing, 4 Indians Among Them
The cargo ship, named RAPTOR, was sailing from Egypt to Istanbul with a load of 6,000 tons of salt when it encountered strong winds and high waves in the Aegean Sea. The ship sent a distress signal at around 4 a.m. local time but soon lost contact with the coastguard.
The coastguard said that a navy helicopter picked up one crew member from the water and took him to the Lesbos General Hospital. He was identified as a 45-year-old Syrian national and was reported to be in good condition. The other 13 crew members, comprising 10 Syrians, three Egyptians, and four Indians, were still missing as of Monday.
Rescue Efforts and Status of Crew Members
The coastguard launched a major search and rescue operation involving six vessels, two helicopters, a plane, and a team of divers. The operation was hampered by the rough weather and poor visibility but continued throughout the day and night. The coastguard also asked for assistance from nearby ships and the Turkish authorities.
The coastguard said that it had located the sunken ship at a depth of about 1,400 meters, but had not detected any signs of life. The coastguard also said that it had recovered some debris and personal belongings from the surface of the water, but had not found any bodies. The coastguard said that it would continue the search until all possibilities were exhausted.
The status of the missing crew members remained unknown and their chances of survival were slim, given the low water temperature and the long time elapsed since the sinking. The families of the crew members were anxiously waiting for any news and hoping for a miracle.
Details of the Ship Sinking
Cause of Incident
The exact cause of the ship sinking was not clear, but it was suspected that the ship was overloaded and unseaworthy. The ship was built in 1977 and had a gross tonnage of 3,828 tons. It was registered in the Comoros Islands, a flag of convenience that is often used by ship owners to avoid strict regulations and inspections.
The ship had also been involved in a previous incident in 2019 when it ran aground near the port of Alexandria in Egypt. The ship was detained by the Egyptian authorities for several months until it paid a fine and repaired the damages. The ship was then allowed to resume its operations, but it was unclear whether it had undergone any safety checks or improvements.
The ship’s owner, a Syrian company based in Tartus, could not be reached for comment. The ship’s operator, a Turkish company based in Istanbul, said that it had hired the ship from the owner and that it was not responsible for its maintenance or crew. The operator also said that it had followed all the procedures and protocols for the voyage and that it was cooperating with the authorities.
Search and Rescue Operations
The search and rescue operations were coordinated by the Greek coastguard, which had jurisdiction over the area where the ship sank. The coastguard said that it had followed the international conventions and standards for maritime emergencies and that it had done everything possible to save the crew members. The coastguard also said that it had notified the relevant embassies and consulates of the incident and that it was providing assistance and support to the families of the crew members.
The Turkish coastguard also participated in the search and rescue operations, as the ship was heading to Turkey and had some Turkish crew members on board. The Turkish coastguard said that it had sent two vessels and a helicopter to the area and that it had coordinated with the Greek coastguard. The Turkish coastguard also said that it had offered to send a submarine and a remotely operated vehicle to help locate the sunken ship, but that the offer was declined by the Greek coastguard.
The Indian coastguard also expressed its readiness to join the search and rescue operations, as the ship had four Indian crew members on board. The Indian coastguard said that it had contacted the Greek coastguard and that it was awaiting its response. The Indian coastguard also said that it had alerted its assets in the region and that it was prepared to deploy them if needed.
Latest Updates on Missing Crew Members
The latest updates on the missing crew members were provided by the coastguards and the embassies of the respective countries. The coastguards said that they had not received any new information or signals from the crew members and that they had not found any survivors or bodies. The coastguards said that they would keep the public informed of any developments and that they would not give up the search until they had conclusive evidence.
The embassies of the respective countries said that they were in touch with the coastguards and the families of the crew members and that they were providing consular and humanitarian assistance. The embassies also said that they were working with the authorities to identify and repatriate the crew members in case they were found. The embassies also said that they were seeking more information and clarification from the ship’s owner and operator.
Impact on Indian Crew Members
Identities and Backgrounds
The four Indian crew members who were missing were identified as Rajesh Kumar, 35, from Bihar, Rakesh Kumar, 32, from Uttar Pradesh, Suresh Kumar, 28, from Tamil Nadu, and Praveen Kumar, 25, from Kerala. They were all working as seamen on the ship and had joined the ship in Egypt in October. They had been working on the ship for about two months and were looking forward to returning home soon.
The four Indian crew members came from humble backgrounds and had taken up the job of seafaring to support their families. They had undergone training and certification from maritime institutes in India and had obtained valid documents and visas. They had also paid hefty fees to agents and recruiters to get the job on the ship. They had hoped to earn a decent income and save some money for their future.
The families of the four Indian crew members were devastated by the news of the ship sinking and the disappearance of their loved ones. They were clinging to the hope that they were still alive and that they would be found and rescued. They were also seeking help and justice from the authorities and the ship’s owner and operator. They said that they wanted to know the truth about what happened to the ship and the crew members and that they wanted to get their rightful compensation and dues.
Indian Government’s Response and Support
The Indian government expressed its deep concern and sorrow over the incident and the fate of the Indian crew members. The Indian government said that it was closely monitoring the situation and that it was in constant contact with the Greek and Turkish authorities. The Indian government also said that it was providing all possible assistance and support to the families of the Indian crew members.
The Indian external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, spoke to his Greek and Turkish counterparts and conveyed his condolences and solidarity. He also requested their cooperation and help in the search and rescue operations and the identification and repatriation of the Indian crew members. He also assured them of India’s full support and cooperation in the investigation and resolution of the incident.
The Indian ambassador to Greece, Amrit Lugun, visited the hospital where the rescued Syrian crew member was admitted and enquired about his condition and the details of the incident. He also met with the Greek coastguard officials and thanked them for their efforts and coordination. He also urged them to intensify the search and rescue operations and to share any information or evidence with the Indian authorities.
The Indian embassy in Greece also set up a helpline and a special cell to assist the families of the Indian crew members. The embassy said that it was providing regular updates and guidance to the families and that it was facilitating their communication and travel arrangements. The embassy also said that it was working with the Greek and Turkish authorities and the ship’s owner and operator to ensure the safety and welfare of the Indian crew members.
Importance of Safety Measures and Awareness
Recent Incidents of Cargo Ship Sinkings
The incident of the cargo ship sinking near Greece was not an isolated or rare occurrence, but rather a part of a disturbing trend of increasing accidents and disasters involving cargo ships around the world. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping, there were 41 total losses of cargo ships in 2020, up from 35 in 2019 and 24 in 2018.
Some of the recent incidents of cargo ship sinkings include:
- A leak in the Taiwan Strait caused the cargo ship Hao Feng to sink in shallow water with its superstructure above water in 2023 after being run into Calandorang Bay on the eastern shore of Balabac Island, Philippines, to avoid deep water. A crew was saved.
- In 2022, the cargo ship Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal, blocking the vital waterway for six days and causing a massive disruption to global trade. The ship was eventually refloated with the help of tugboats and dredgers and towed to the Great Bitter Lake for inspection. The ship was released in July 2022 after a compensation deal was reached between the owners and the canal authorities.
- In 2021, the cargo ship X-Press Pearl caught fire and sank off the coast of Sri Lanka, causing a major environmental disaster. The ship was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tons of nitric acid and other hazardous chemicals, as well as 28 containers of plastic pellets. The fire was caused by a leak of nitric acid from one of the containers, which the crew had tried to fix without success. The fire spread to other containers and eventually engulfed the whole ship. The ship’s hull was breached and the ship sank in June 2021, releasing tons of plastic pellets and debris into the ocean. The incident resulted in the death of marine life, damage to coral reefs, and pollution of beaches.
Dealing with Stormy Seas and Extreme Weather Conditions
One of the main challenges and risks faced by cargo ships is exposure to stormy seas and extreme weather conditions, which can cause damage, instability, and sinking of the ships. According to the IMO, weather and sea conditions accounted for 25% of the total losses of cargo ships in 2020, making it the second most common cause after fire and explosion.
Some of the factors that make stormy seas and extreme weather conditions dangerous for cargo ships include:
- High winds and waves: These can exert tremendous force and pressure on the ship’s structure, hull, and cargo, causing cracks, leaks, and breaches. They can also reduce the ship’s maneuverability, stability, and visibility, making it difficult to navigate and avoid collisions.
- Heavy rain and snow: These can reduce the visibility and communication of the ship, making it hard to see and signal other ships and the coastguard. They can also increase the weight and moisture of the cargo, affecting the ship’s balance and buoyancy.
- Lightning and thunder: These can damage the ship’s electrical and electronic systems, affecting the ship’s power, navigation, and communication. They can also ignite fires and explosions, especially if the ship is carrying flammable or explosive cargo.
- Ice and frost: These can form on the ship’s deck, hull, and cargo, increasing the weight and drag of the ship. They can also damage the ship’s equipment and machinery, affecting the ship’s performance and functionality. They can also block the ship’s pipes and valves, affecting the ship’s water and fuel supply.
Lesson Learned and Future Precautions
The incident of the cargo ship sinking near Greece has highlighted the importance of safety measures and awareness for cargo ships and their crew members, especially in stormy seas and extreme weather conditions. Some of the lessons learned and future precautions that can be taken include:
- Proper loading and securing of cargo: The cargo should be loaded and secured according to the ship’s capacity and design, ensuring that the weight and distribution of the cargo are balanced and stable. The cargo should also be checked and inspected regularly for any signs of damage or leakage.
- Regular maintenance and inspection of ship: The ship should be maintained and inspected regularly for any signs of wear and tear or malfunction. The ship should also comply with international standards and regulations for safety and security, such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code. The ship should also carry the necessary equipment and documents, such as lifeboats, life jackets, distress signals, and certificates.
- Adequate training and preparation of crew: The crew should be trained and prepared for any emergency or contingency, such as fire, flooding, evacuation, or rescue. The crew should also be familiar with the ship’s layout, systems, and procedures, as well as the weather and sea conditions of the route. The crew should also have the necessary skills and qualifications, such as language, communication, and navigation.
- Timely and accurate communication and coordination: The ship should communicate and coordinate with the relevant authorities and parties, such as the coastguard, the port, and the owner and operator. The ship should also report and update its position, status, and situation regularly and accurately, especially in case of any trouble or distress. The ship should also follow the instructions and guidance of the authorities and parties, especially in case of any emergency or rescue.
By following these safety measures and awareness, cargo ships and their crew members can reduce the risks and impacts of stormy seas and extreme weather conditions, and ensure a safe and smooth voyage.