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Directive issued on petitions of victimís wife and a fisherman

The Kerala High Court has directed the Director General of Shipping and the Principal Officer, Mercantile Marine Department, Kochi, to seize and take into custody the original official log book and other documents, including the voyage data record and GPS chart of the Panama cargo vessel Amber L.

The vessel is involved in a mid-sea collision with a fishing boat off the Kochi coast, killing three fishermen. Eleven other occupants sustained injuries.

The directive was passed on writ petitions filed by Sujatha, wife of Antony John Jesu Alexander, who was killed in the accident, and another fisherman.

According to the petitioner, the Director General of Shipping and the Mercantile Marine Department were the competent authorities under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 to initiate formal investigation into any marine casualty / accident at the earliest as per the provisions of the Act.

They were yet to conduct a preliminary probe into the accident and seize crucial evidence such as voyage date recorder, navigation chart, night order book, and bell book containing the entries on the day of the accident.

The petitioners alleged that they were deliberately delaying the lawful procedure contemplated under the Merchant Shipping Act in order to protect the interests of the shipping industry, thus denying the rights of the petitioners. They had failed to carry out their legal obligations and functions.

The petitioners also pointed out that even though the persons in charge of the cargo ship knew about the accident, they had not taken steps to rescue the fishermen on board the fishing boat or provide any support to them. In fact, their inaction amounted to an offence under the Act.

The petitioners further alleged that the Director General of Shipping and the Mercantile Marine Department were trying to derail the investigation being conducted by the coastal police.

The petitioners sought a directive to initiate a formal inquiry by the Director General of Shipping under Section 360 of Merchant Shipping Act into the accident.

When the petitions came up for hearing, the Centre submitted that the cargo vessel had been detained within the Kochi port limits. The Coast Guard along with the police checked the navigation records of the ship. An investigation by the Director General of Shipping and other agencies was in progress.

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