Losing lives, losing face in Iran

Iran has never been an easy country to deal with. But actions within that country have recently claimed seven Indian lives. Yet the Iranians don’t seem to acknowledge our right to even know what happened, forget punitive actions against those responsible, if at all.

On October 20, 2011, approximately 15 nautical miles off Iran’s Bushehr province, a diving support ship sank in under five minutes, ostensibly, because of foul weather. Seven Indians perished. Maritime watchers find it very curious that a ship sank so fast even if on account of foul weather. After all, ships are built to survive storms.

Diving Support Ship Koosha 1

To this day, there is no official information from the Iranians about what exactly happened.

‘Not all well with the ship’

If the version of a diving expert associated with the incident is to be believed, there was a fight which broke out between the captain of Koosha 1, owner and client before the incident. The fact that Koosha 1 had not returned to the harbour was because they were being forced to work. “Owing to the adverse weather conditions prevailing and in order to replenish men and supplies, Koosha 1 was returning to harbour. But the owner was pressurizing the crew to work. There were serious issues of overloading in the ship which in fair weather would have gone unnoticed,” he said. But the moment weather turned adverse, the ship stood no chance, he added. This was further corroborated by an officer from the ministry of shipping, “We have reasons to believe that the ship, Diving Support Vessel (DSV) Koosha 1, had engineered some modifications which had a bearing on its weight.”

He added however that since the Indians who were hit were not technically ‘seafarers’ (most being divers and those involved in diving support activities), his ministry had little room for muscle-flexing.

Another official in the know added, “Our assessment shows that cement silos were stocked on board. Material state of the ship was bad. There was total negligence given the fact that the ingress of water could not be localized and that the internals of the ship were opened up. All this when the ship was warned of foul weather conditions, unbelievable!” Zakir Hussain, project manager with Adsun Offshore, the agency which had contracted these Indians for the ill-fated assignment said, “Everyone, including survivors, said that the Koosha 1 went down in 3-4 minutes. Nobody even said 5 five minutes in approximation. That is how quickly it happened.” Unless there was an external factor, she would not have sunk this way, he said.

A daughter's wait for answers: Late BN Chandra's (seen in the laptop) death remains unexplained. His daughter, Mallika Chandra seen here. Photo by JUGAL PUROHIT.

Investigation sought

As per documents accessed by the author, the Ministry of Shipping has written, in separate communications, to the Indian Embassy in Iran as well as to the Ports and Maritime Organisation, Govt of Iran. The moot point in both documents being the same: find out what happened. One of the document quoting International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) casualty investigation code, seeks an inquiry. By virtue of the lives lost and scarred, the ministry has also sought the participation of an Indian investigator in the investigation. These documents were sent across to Tehran in the immediate aftermath of the  incident.

Since then, three more reminders seeking a response have been sent. ‘But Iran is yet to reply, we are waiting,” said a Tehran-based MEA official.

“Pressurize Iran”

Even though till now the families have not faced any problems on the compensation front, their woes stem from not knowing what took away their loved ones. “Our plight has been further aggravated by the fact that the media in India has not shown any interest. In the days following the accident, we made calls to media houses but found no answers. When we called Iran, on hearing us speak in English, they would simply slam the phone. Today also, there is no pressure from anywhere and thus no answers for us,” said Madhumita Chandra, a teacher who lost her father, BN Chandra, ex-Indian Navy technical officer who handled diving operations. “Dad’s body was found 90kms from the site of the accident. Survivors we met say he warned a lot of people and tried to get them out of the ship in that little span of time he had,” she added. “It will not let us rest till we know why and what happened. If it is someone’s mistake then there should be justice,” she mentioned.

SP Singh, who lost two relatives, both divers said, “There is something amiss in this. But being Iran, I doubt if even our embassy will be able to get some answers,” Singh added. Managing a diving company himself, he added that the ship was carrying excess weight. “But those responsible are being shielded,” he mentioned.

Names of the deceased

1. Mr. NK Sharma

2. Mr. Rajesh Dabas

3. Mr. JS Padda

4. Mr. Ajesh Gaur

5. Mr. Dhirendra Kadian

6. Mr. Parvinder Kadian

7. Mr. BN Chandra

DSV Koosha 1 was built in 1982. An Iranian-flag ship, her last known port of call was Dubai. Her IMO number was 8019992. Her registered owner is Darya Koosh company in Tehran, Iran and the ship was managed by Simatech shipping and forwarding, Dubai, UAE. 


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