Goa seafarer dies at sea; family alleges ship denied him medical assistance

The Goa Seamen Association of India (GSAI), a collective of seafarers, has called for a ‘fair inquiry’ into the death of Beejoy Sequeira, a local lad who worked as a chef on board Ship MV Jabal Alkawar on September 17
Image for representation. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Image for representation. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Updated on Oct 06, 2021 05:06 PM IST
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By Gerard de Souza

The Goa Seamen Association of India (GSAI), a collective of seafarers, has called for a ‘fair inquiry’ into the death of Beejoy Sequeira, a local lad who worked as a chef on board Ship MV Jabal Alkawar on September 17. His family has accused the shipping company of neglecting his health and denying him emergency medical evacuation, which they say, resulted in his death.

Sequeira, 37, was believed to have contracted Covid-19 with symptoms developing while he was at sea and. His family has alleged that he was denied medical attention despite his symptoms taking a turn for the worse. According to the family, he was not allowed to disembark, neither was he hospitalized. He is survived by his wife and two young daughters aged six and four.

Sequeira was employed as a chief cook on board MV JABAL AL KHAWR, bulk carrier, registered in Marshall Islands, ship owned and operated by Oman Shipping Company.

“He was sick since 5th September when the vessel was in port in Malaysia, his condition deteriorated and there was no initiative taken by the master and the company to medi-evac him or divert the ship to the nearest port. The company has not replied as to what events led to his death, the company only called to inform that he expired on 17th September 2021,” president of the GSAI, Frank Viegas, said.

His family is now running from pillar to post to try and get his body from Mauritius where it presently lies after the ship made a late decision to divert to Mauritius en route from Malaysia to South Africa.

Beejoy joined the ship in March this year well before the vaccination drive began in India and was unvaccinated. On September 7, Beejoy informed his brother Eldon that he was experiencing a high fever with Covid-19 symptoms for the last two days and that another crew member was also displaying similar symptoms.

“At this point, the ship was in port in Malaysia discharging cargo. His condition appeared to improve with his fever subsiding but he continued to experience cough and body ache. By this time, the ship had left port and the next port of call was Cape Town, South Africa. On 11 September he again informed me that his health was deteriorating and that he was not able to move around and was coughing constantly and that three other crew members were kept in isolation by the master,” Eldon said.

Eldon asked him to request the shipmaster to divert the ship and disembark him as his health was deteriorating rapidly.

“The master also agreed that his health was certainly worsening and that he would request the company to get him off the ship after diverting to the nearest port. Instead, on 12 September, the master informed him that medical aid was being arranged at Cape Town, South Africa, where they were scheduled to reach by 26-27 September,” Eldon said.

This would mean a further period of 15 days before any medical attention could be administered.

Increasingly desperate, his family back home urged him to continue to “somehow convince the master to divert the ship” while simultaneously calling the crewing agency ‘V-Ships Mumbai and requested them to arrange for his emergency relief. However, they were curtly told that he was ‘stable’ and his condition was being monitored.

On 17 September he sent voice messages that he was too weak to even stand up and was having difficulty in breathing. The same day, the company called up the family to inform them that he was no more.

“It is clearly evident that the complete negligence on the part of the master, DPA, the owners of the Oman Shipping Company and the V-ships management is the cause of my brother’s death. The master should have carried out the RT-PCR test while the vessel was still in port. He also provided false information to Malaysia port control regarding Covid-19 clearance protocol before departure knowing that some of his crew members were sick with Covid symptoms, later, he also failed to divert the ship and request Emergency Medical Evacuation even after my brother’s health condition worsened,” Eldon said.

“I personally feel that he decided to ignore the facts and carry on with the voyage at the behest of the owners and management, keeping in mind the cost involved if the ship is quarantined,” he added.

The GSAI has demanded an inquiry to establish the facts and hold those responsible accountable.

“It was utter negligence on the part of the master for not diverting the ship when he was advised by the shore medical team. There is always lots of commercial pressure from the owners/managers. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the master to make the right decision. Today, a life was lost due to sheer negligence,” Viegas said.

“Due to the casual approach of all stakeholders, precious time and opportunities were lost, whereby medical attention could have been administered, which would have saved his life, instead of allowing his health to deteriorate over a period of ten days since he first displayed symptoms,” Viegas added.

“I have notified all the concerned authorities including Port state control of Mauritius (where the ship is anchored to disembark my brother’s mortal remains) Flag state of Marshall Islands, ITF, IMO, DG Shipping India, Ministry of Shipping and Request them to take strong action against the above-mentioned parties involved. But sadly there’s no reply from any of the Authorities,” Eldon said.

The shipping company has offered a similar version of events but said it took the best course of action available.

“Bejoy Ressel Sequeira first reported feeling unwell on September 9 and was immediately isolated in his cabin as per Master’s instructions, who then immediately contacted the managers and the International Radio Medical centre (CIRM) for advice and treatment. The company reviewed options for diverting the vessel to obtain further medical support, but as the vessel was through the Sunda Strait and into the Indian Ocean, the best option was identified as Mauritius. Tragically, the chief cook passed away on September 17 and the vessel anchored in Port Louis on September 20th,” Pat Adamson, representing Oman Ship Management Company, said.

“An autopsy carried out in Mauritius on September 30 showed that the chief cook passed away as a result of pulmonary embolism, the body being free of infection or any contagious diseases,” he added.

“Managers and crew managers, offer their heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of Bejoy Sequeira at this tragic time, with support and information to families being provided via V.Ships India,” he said.

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Monday, October 18, 2021