Published in Sagar Sandesh Maritime Tabloid (www.sagarsandesh.com)
Coming September, it will be 12 long years for Mr. Raju Kuppan, a retired Chennai Port Trust employee, whose young seafarer son Mr. Venkatesh went missing from a cargo vessel off Barcelona, Spain, in 2001.
Though Mr. Kuppan had taken relentless efforts (ever since he got the ill-fated information) to trace his missing son by regularly writing to the concerned officials for the last 11 years, the Government’s insensitive “actions” poured cold water on his all efforts.
“While my wife and I lead a dejected life for being unable to trace our missing son for the past 12 years, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), instead of taking affirmative steps to find him using its well-established communication channels with Spain, recently sent us a letter saying the matter cannot be pursued with Spanish authorities (now) due to a gap of over 10 years,” a visibly irate Mr. Kuppan told Sagar Sandesh.
Rebutting the MEA's ‘10-year gap’ story, Mr. Kuppan, in a strongly worded letter, contended that from the date of disappearance of his son, the matter is pursued in all earnestness and there is no gap in the number of years theory. In the detailed letter to MEA, he also listed out the dates of the letters (starting from June 2002 up to 2012) sent from his side to corroborate that no such gap has occurred while pursuing the matter with Indian Embassy in Madrid, Spain.
“We appeal to the Government of India, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Office of the Shipping Ministry to take whatever steps are possible find out our missing son,” Mr. Kuppan told this scribe in a choked voice.
Recalling the whole story, he narrated how his son, Chief Engineer, contacted him over phone on the evening of Sept. 30, 2001 and complained about poor conditions onboard; subsequently he went mysteriously missing within 24 hours.
Mr. Venkatesh joined the vessel MV Federal Fraser on July 3, 2001 manned by M/s Univan Ship Management Limited, Hong Kong.
On Sept. 30, 2001 (possibly in the morning), Mr. Venkatesh, who was aged about 32 years then, had faxed a letter from the vessel to M/s Univan, Hong Kong expressing his willingness to sign off in Barcelona, Spain, at his own cost.
“My son had made telephone calls to us in Chennai from the vessel the same evening and informed me that he was having stomach discomfort and burning sensation after drinking water kept in his cabin. After hearing my son’s voice in such a condition, my initial apprehension was that his drinking water could have been poisoned, as he complained about poor conditions onboard the cargo vessel,” he added.
Astounded with his son’s disclosure over phone, Mr. Kuppan, within a few minutes, alerted Mr. Anurag Singh in Univan Hong Kong office and sought his urgent help to save his son, who had complained of severe stomach discomfort after consuming water laced with mysterious substance.
Assuring him with immediate action, Mr. Anurag over phone told Mr. Kuppan that the company was inclined to take all possible steps and his son would be reaching Chennai within two days after signing off at Barcelona, Spain.
But to shock and surprise, Mr. Kuppan was informed by the company the very next day (Oct. 1, 2001) that Mr. Venkatesh gone missing from the vessel since midnight.
“When my son himself was willing to sign off in Barcelona at his own cost and the manning agent had also agreed to relieve him, there was no need for my son to disappear a few hours before reaching Barcelona.” Mr. Kuppan also categorically discounted the “Man over board theory” by the manning agent as a concocted story to suppress facts from being coming out in public.
“We fear that the Captain of the vessel for the best reasons best known to him skillfully schemed, meticulously planned and surreptitiously executed the diabolic design of eliminating my son by poisoning the drinking water before the vessel reached Barcelona Port and threw the body over board under the cover of darkness and destroyed all the evidence,” charged Mr. Kuppan.
The man-missing case took a curious turn when the global law and order agency Interpol’s Spain branch had sent a letter (seeking more information) to its wing in New Delhi stating that Mr. Venkatesh, the Chief Engineer of the vessel MV Federal Fraser, had a telephonic conversation with his father (in Chennai, India) and mentioned about the threat to his life by the Captain of the vessel.
Mr. Kuppan lamented that neither the Interpol’s enquiry nor the efforts of other agencies concerned reached the logical end.
As the efforts by manning agents did not yield any positive results, Mr. Kuppan had no other go but to write directly to the President, the Ministry of External Affairs and Shipping Ministry with a hope that someday he would get news about his missing son.
For the past more than10 years Mr. Kuppan has been visiting different offices with an expectation that some news about his missing son would ultimately reach him. But nothing has happened so for.
“Had our appeals and prayers been considered sympathetically with human approach by the Embassy of India, Madrid, Spain, through concerned authorities, justice would have been rendered to us. But till date, the whereabouts of my son are not known and we are not aware of the status quo in this matter for years,” a visibly shaken Mr. Kuppan deplored.