Fire on Maersk Ship in Arabian Sea: Hopes of Finding Missing Indian Sailor Fades
Two sailors, who were in urgent need of medical care, were evacuated by Indian navy vessel and handed over to the Indian coast guard of Thiruvananthapuram and are now receiving medical treatment. They are accompanied by one of the evacuated Indian colleagues well versed in Malayalam

New Delhi: Even as the search is on for the four missing sailors of Maersk Honam ship, including one Indian, the company said that "hopes are fading" to find them.

"While search operation continues the hope of finding our missing colleagues is fading. We are in contact with their families and they know that tragically, the time passed decreases the likelihood of finding their loved ones alive. Our thoughts and prayers go to them," Søren Toft, chief operating officer of AP Moller-Maersk said in a statement on Thursday.

The missing seafarers are two Filipinos, one South African and one Indian national.

The missing Indian crew member has been identified as Sakim Hegde, one of the cooks on board, a senior official from the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS), India’s maritime regulator, said.

Twenty-three crew were evacuated from Maersk Honam container ship on Tuesday after a distress signal was sent when they were unable to bring the fire under control. They immediately received help by a nearby vessel, ALS Ceres. One of the rescued seafarer, a Thai national, succumbed to injuries the following day.

Maersk Line further said in its statement that among the rescued members, a Thai and a Filipino sailor, were in urgent need of medical care as their conditions worsened. They were evacuated by Indian navy vessel and handed over to the Indian coast guard of Thiruvananthapuram and are now receiving medical treatment. They are accompanied by one of the evacuated Indian colleagues, who is well versed in Malayalam.

The sailors, who arrived at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, have been identifed as Deepu Jayan (31) hailing from Ambalathara in Thiruvananthapuram, Alen Roy (34), a Filipino and Sukun Suven peng (36) a Thai national, a hospital release said. It was also stated that they were injured after falling from the ship that caught fire off the Lakshadweep coast.

The remaining 19 crew members were ferried to Cochin by ALS Ceres, where they are being treated and counselled by medical professionals and crisis psychologists.

"We are doing our outmost to care for and closely follow the conditions of all evacuated colleagues. Also, we have an ongoing contact with their closest relatives," Søren Toft said.

According to the visuals received on Thursday, the fire continued to rage through the forward portion of the ship, and was slowly spreading towards the bridge of the vessel. The high temperatures had melted the containers onboard. Coast Guard Ship 'Shoor' was on the spot and fire fighting was underway. An ICG spokesperson said the ship is spewing out toxic smoke and the duo are showing signs of toxic gas inhalation.

Toft said the ICG is coordinating both the fire fighting as well as search and rescue efforts, and has called out for more help from merchant vessels passing through the busy shipping route. The company has also commissioned a heavy duty ship specialising in fire fighting to help extinguish the blaze, he said.

Asked about the cause of the fire, Toft said it is too early to "speculate" on that. The fire started from cargo hold number 3 on the vessel located close to the crew accommodation, he said.

The crew decided to jump ship after multiple efforts at containing the flames failed, he said. Without specifying the quantity, Toft said a few of the over 7,800 containers on board had cargo classified as "dangerous".

He, however, said it is premature to blame them for the fire and added that shipping lines regularly carry such cargo in the containers.

The ship has a capacity to carry 15,000 standard 20-foot equivalent (TEUs) containers and was carrying over 12,000 TEUs on the voyage from Singapore to Suez when the incident occurred on Tuesday.

The company's efforts are directed towards saving the ship commissioned only last year, he said. "The fire is still blazing, the situation is still critical...very, very seldom that we have incidents of this severity," Toft said.

(With inputs from PTI)