Monday, 10 December 2012

The Story Behind Kairaly Disappearance

M, V Kairaly the only ship owned by Kerala Shipping Corporation (KSC) sailed from Mar Goa on 30th June 1979. Captain Mariyadas Joseph refused to sail the ship on 30th since the radar of the ship was under repair. Sri.K .Sadasivan who was then the liaison  officer of   the  corporation, a protégé of late Sri.M.N Govindan Nair the veteran CPI leader gave an ultimatum to the captain to sail the ship on 30th June  itself  due to reasons best known to himself. Although Capt Joseph resisted the move and  walked  out of the  dinner party on the previous day after throwing soccers at Sadasivan, finally   relented and took the ship on 30th itself.            

The last letter sent by the captain to his wife Smt. Marykutty Joseph dtd;                                                 26-6-79 clearly states that the radar had to be repaired and the ship will sail only after 4 days meaning July 4th 1979.

Another unfortunate event was that while the cargo was being loaded in to the ship two of the crew members fell in to the sea but they could be rescued. Finally the ship sailed from the Mar Goa port on the evening of 30th June 79 without radar carrying a cargo of 20,538 tons of iron ore to Rostock in East Germany.

There were communications from and to the ship on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd July 79 through the Bombay Radio, the official agency to communicate messages to and from the ship. There were communications to the ship on 4th,5th and 6th July by KSC .But obviously the ship did not seem to have received any of those messages since there was no response from the ship .But when did KSC came to know  of this fact is a  mystery . They say that they came to know of it only on 16th July by an ordinary post from Bombay Radio which need not be true. If it were a costly and irresponsible act on the part of Bombay Radio what prevented KSC to contact Bombay Radio on 4th or 5th july itself since there was no response from the ship after 3rd july’79.Arguably if KSC had received the message from Bombay Radio as late as 16th july they did not have seemed to question Bombay Radio about their irresponsible act. The likely chance is that KSC had information about non- receipt of the messages by the ship much earlier from Bombay Radio unofficially. 
On 11thth July the Mitcots who were Kairali’s shipping agents in Djibouti reported to KSC that the ship did not report at Djibouti for fuelling on 8th July as was scheduled. Then only KSC says they came to know of the missing of the ship. But KSC did not reveal this fact both to relatives of the crew and the public at large which was a culpable offence on their part. The story appeared in the Kerala press only on July 15th. They did not know anything about a salvage operation nor do they have the wisdom to consult anybody in the matter. There was hardly anybody in the KSC who was knowledgeable about shipping .Their Managing Director at that time was one V.Vasudevan Nair IAS who started off his career as a Tahasildar .One doubts whether he had ever visited or seen the ship Kairali.  After a lapse of 12 valuable days on 16th July or so the Indian Navy was alerted about the matter and they undertook reconnaissance flights in the area. Since it was monsoon time and owing to bad weather how deep they could have gone to the sea is a mute question. The only piece of information available from them was that a ship like Kairali was seen to be moving very close to Socotra Island and no communication was possible with them. No debris or flotsam was located to prove the contention that Kairali was sunk. After a round of flights in the area from where Kairali had sent the last message they gave up the search operations for the vessel. It seems, due to inclement weather and other factors whether they had undertaken a thorough search operation is doubtful. . Simultaneously the KSC took steps to claim the compensation from the insurance company. Although the ship was bought at a lesser value it was over insured for Rs. 6 Crores. It was a 2nd hand ship bought from Norway .Its original name being Oscarsord re christened as Kairali.
On 23-7-79 the KSC received a lengthy message from one Mr. George Daniel who happened to be the Managing Director of a ship breaking company called “Pan Arab Shipping and Transporting Corporation”. His contention could be summarized as “Owing to a variety of reasons the ship had not sunk as is claimed by the KSC and they were willing to start a search operation and if the ship is located they have to be paid a compensation of 2.8 lack US $ on a “No cure no pay offer”. It means the compensation amount need be paid if only the ship is located afloat or sunken with conclusive proof. Information regarding the message was kept as confidential. As per the information gathered by KSC the Pan Arab Shipping and Transporting Corporation was only a ship breaking company and they lacked the wherewithal to undertake such a salvage operation. After a few days information regarding Pan Arab message came to light among   relatives of the crew and for them it was the last straw on the camel’s back. An emergency meeting of the relatives of the crew was held at Kottayam Paikda’s college and a Kairaly Action Committee was formed with Sri Sebastian Paikada as convener and Prof. Babu Joseph as joint convener .It was also decided to hold a sit in dharna in front of the KSC office at W.Island cochin by the relatives of the crew on 28th July. The then Managing Director of KSC one Sri V.Vasudevan Nair IAS had to face a very unfriendly crowd when he reached his office late in the night from Trivandrum.

We the relatives of the crew insisted on 2 things. 1.A high power committee with state chief secretary as chairman with representatives of the relatives of the crew and a couple of shipping experts had to be immediately constituted to enquire  afresh in to the circumstances behind the disappearance of the ship.2.A two member enquiry commission had to be constituted to initiate a fresh discussion with Sri George Daniel MD of Pan Arab Shipping and transporting Corporation Kuwait and also to hold discussions with shipping circles abroad about the possibility of the ship Kairali being pirated in high seas .It was also suggested that one of the 2 member enquiry commission should be a shipping expert and the other a relative of the crew members .Before an angry crowd of the relatives the MD had to accept both the suggestions.

 Since then events moved rather fast although the heart of the shipping corporation was not in it. For them ship was already lost in high seas due to factors unknown to them and they had very promptly moved papers to claim the insurance amount. It was simply to assuage the ruffled feelings of the relatives of the crew and to camouflage their own incompetence and failure to undertake timely action to enquire in to the disappearance of the ship were factors behind accepting our suggestions at gun point. In fact what they ought to have done was to hire an helicopter on 4th July itself when the ship failed to send the daily message to the last reported site of the ship which was about 600 kms away from Margoa .How a ship like Kairali a bulk carrier could have decimated at the dead end of night without leaving a message or flotsam is still a mystery.  

One Mr.R.Lakshmana Iyer who was a ship surveyor at Cochin port and me representing relatives of the crew were asked to undertake an enquiry both in Kuwait and Saudi Aarabia to enquire in to the various possibilities behind Kairali disappearance and to initiate talks with Mr.George Daniel who had offered a search operation.

After obtaining the necessary visas we started off our mission by the 1st week of Aug 1979.According to us, the possibilities behind Kairaly disappearance were two.

1.      Owing to bad weather and due to lack of vision and waves to the altitude of 100 ft or above cargo shifting taking  place in  the ship and the vessel being broken in to pieces within split seconds and sunk in high seas without getting a chance to send an SOS.

  2. The ship being pirated and crew members taken to some uninhabited islands to fend for themselves and the ship being taken to some safe havens.  

Immediately after landing in Kuwait we thought of initiating a discussion with Sri. George Daniel .His arguments were the following.

1.     When Kairaly was set to sail the climate was not that bad. The meteorological department indicated it as 7 which were not alarming. No thunder storm or hails were reported.

2.     Kairaly was a bulk carrier with independent 4 halls and the possibility for cargo shifting was remote especially if the cargo is trimmed properly when it is being loaded in to the ship.

3.     Kairaly had 4 or 5 independent communication systems in place and it is equally impossible for all the systems to fail automatically and especially when the ship was passing through a very busy shipping channel and any distress message could have been picked up any ship passing by.

4.     A ship of Kairaly’s dimension could not have sunk without leaving any debris or flotsam. There are so many articles in the ship which will float around including oil which was not seen by anybody.

5.     Sea piracy was a common thing in the coast of Somalia and Aden even at that time and why the KSC failed to undertake an enquiry on that basis   and it is possible that Kairaly could be taken to some ports and its name, colour and even shape could be changed .In the worst case scenario ship could be taken to some unidentified breaking units and could be broken or sold as scrap .The chances are more since the ship had zero visibility in the absence of a radar and under bad weather.

We were quite interested in our discussions with George Daniel since he was engaged in ship breaking and chances of his getting some information about a pirated ship was greater. Incidentally Sri George Daniel was detained under Coffepoosa and was in Poojapura central jail for sometime.

Why KSC delayed the search operations and a No cure No pay offer from him was summarily rejected especially when it did not involve any expenditure on the part of KSC.      
We concluded our discussions with Sri George Daniel after obtaining a verbal assurance from him that Pan Arab Shipping and Transporting corporation will still be interested to undertake a search operation if the Kerala Govt; shows real interested in the issue and the matter was duly reported to Govt; of Kerala and to Smt. Jyothi Venkittachellam who was   then the Governor of the state.

From Kuwait the enquiry commission went to Saudi Arabia and had held extensive dialogues with shipping authorities both in Dammam and  Jidha  port. They were quite unanimous that sea piracy is a common thing in Somalian coasts and nothing was done to prevent it since it involved joint operations by a number of countries. But every thing was on a discussion level at that point of time.

Now   it is a common knowledge that sea piracy is taking place and we get stories of so many ships which pass through Aden get pirated including some Indian ships. But in late 70s for the shipping circles in India it was only a cock and bull story .So it will be quite logical to look in to Kairaly disappearance from a piracy angle.

Was the ship Kairaly Pirated in high seas; Some arguments in favour?
Every body admits the fact that sea piracy is going on in the Somalian Coast for quite sometime and the governments came in to action quite late. Now the question is whether Kairaly was sunk without having a chance to send distress messages or pirated by unidentified gunmen who approached the ship at the dead end of night. 

(1) The enquiry committee appointed to conduct an exhaustive enquiry in to the disappearance of the ship had only a limited mandate for visiting Kuwait and S.Arabia for 10 days. Why we were not allowed to go to Djibouti from where Kairali ought to have taken fuel and Kairaly’s agents being interrogated. A French operator had gone on record as reported that Kairaly had taken fuel from Djibouti as was scheduled .What was the basis of such a reporting. Do the records in Djibouti has have something to substantiate it should have been enquired in to.

(2) One of the planes belonging to Indian Navy had reported during their  reconnaissance operations had located a ship like Kairali moving very close to  Socotra Island with dim lights on .Later on it was reported that it was another ship by name “Koyali” belonging to Shipping Corporation Of India. Does it look the same?

(3) A captain of a ship owned by Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) had reported to have passed through a ship like Kairali with only one light on. When he tried to contact the ship even the one light which was on was switched off. Why he was not interrogated?

(4) Muthu Lakshmi was the sister of Thyagarajan who was a crew on board the ship Kairali. In all the previous voyages he used to send a letter along with a greeting card to his sister Muthu Lakshmi. One such greeting card with some scribbling on it had been received by Muthu Lakshmi  around the last week of july 1979 which she thinks even today can only be from Thyagarajan. Nobody had enquired in to the matter.

(5) One Abu Backer who was working in a Singapore Shipping Company had sent a message to one of his friends Mohammed. The content of the message was the following; “The ship Kairali was pirated while it was sailing in the Arabian Sea by a faction of PLO presuming that it is an American Oil Tanker and all the crew are alive and the ship might have changed its name and colour”. What was the basis of this message?

(6) That Kairali went without radar and it could not have located pirates before they could attack the vessel.

(7) As per the report of the Meteorology Dept. the climate was not that bad though it was monsoon time so that ship could not have capsized without sending a distress message.

(8) Why did KSC not start their reconnaissance operations on 4th july or on 5th when messages were not received from the ship especially when they had received messages continuously on july 1st, 2nd and 3rd.79 from the ship .It is quite obvious that the ship was not receiving messages from the corporation through Bombay Radio and why were they not interrogated or questioned to know about the alleged delay on their part in informing the Corporation on such a vital issue. KSC say they received the fact of non receipt of the messages send by them only by an ordinary post on 16th July 79? Is that true?

(9) Why Capt; changed his mind and decided to take the ship on 29th June itself succumbing to the undue pressure exerted by KSC represented by its liaison officer Sadasivan.

(10)  Does Kairaly have any other cargo loaded in to it other than iron Ore.?

(11)  Were all the crew recruited from Margoa real sailors or some elements who could have had some underhand dealings with wheeler dealers?

(12)  Why the KSC authorities approach the insurance company in hot haste without getting any conclusive proof behind the mysterious disappearance of the ship.

(13)  Mr George Daniel who was an underground goon was not interrogated properly and why we prevented him from conducting a search operation since his was a” No cure No pay offer.”

The theory of Kairaly being sunk

1)    Another theory being advanced against Kairaly was that if the cargo in this case the iron ore if it were not properly trimmed might shift and the ship might lose its balance and sink within split seconds.

2)    Sometimes ship might lie on 2 waives and might break in to pieces and can go down. In both the cases; if at all the arguments can be sound there is no tangible evidence to prove the contention .It can at best be a gesticulation.

Who scuttled the discussions to conduct a search operation by the Pan Arab Shipping and transport Company?

 On our return from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia the enquiry commission submitted a report to KSC and  Govt; of Kerala on the  assumption that the ship was pirated under mysterious circumstances and the services  of Pan Arab Shipping and Transporting Corporation had to be used on a No Pay No cure offer  provided they are willing to undertake such an operation .We insisted on that since the relatives of the crew on board the ship were left with no other alternative in the absence of a conclusive proof that the ship was sunk in the high seas due to an episodic wave which prevented the ship from sending a distress message.
Although the KSC authorities and Govt; level bureaucrats were quite opposed to any fresh enquiry; we managed to convince Smt Jyothi Venkitachalam and she sent me to Sri George Daniel as her emissary and persuaded him to enter in to a fresh agreement with Govt; of Kerala to start an enquiry on a” No Cure No pay basis” .It was so unfortunate that at Govt; level bureaucracy   was dead against any such enquiry and Hon .Governor had took her pen to sign the agreement .It was a Friday weekend and the popular ministry was to be sworn in on Monday next. Suddenly the then water and transport secretary Gopalakrishnan Nair rushed in to the discussion room and stated that it is quite unbecoming on the part of the Hon .Governor to enter in to the proposed agreement on the eve of a popular ministry taking charge on Monday the next. Governor looked at my face and said” I myself constitute the ministry now and I shall make it a part of the cabinet minutes so that the popular ministry may officially sign the agreement. To my mind the last nail on the coffin blocking an enquiry in to the ill fated ship was struck by the bureaucrats who never wanted the truth about Kairaly to come out in the open. 

On my part I knew pretty well the difficulty of convincing 18 ministers in place of one Governor and withdrew unilaterally from the negotiations .Some of the relatives still tried with the ministers but it didn’t see the light of the day due to intra- party squabbles.  

Kairali some issues
(1) Why we bought the ship .at the first instance?
(2) Do they conduct a feasibility study?
(3) Who were all involved in the purchase?
(4) Was there any kick back involved?
(5) Why did the ship sail in between India and East Europe only?
(6)Were there any political interests involved behind the purchase of the ship?
(7) Why was someone knowledgeable about shipping was not appointed in KSC?
(8) Why the bureaucracy at KSC and state level took an adversarial position against a comprehensive enquiry in to the mysterious disappearance of the only ship owned by Govt; of Kerala?

These and many other questions remain at the level of mystery along with Kairaly and 51 lives on board the ship.

(Prepared by Prof.Babu Joseph a member of the delegation to enquire in to the missing ship M.V.Kairaly representing relatives of the crew on board the ship. He could be contacted or (M) 9447115020  


  1. still it is necessary to conduct an enquiry about the fate of the ship and its crew

  2. Considering the relatives of crew an enquiry still need to be conducted


  3. Unlike those days, there are countless technology and sensors available today if a ship was wrecked. Most ancient wrecks have been found.

  4. Someone have to investigate this. Kairali ship was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard about the MH370.

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  6. Notwithstanding the eventual outcome, this write-up is an eye opener.
    That there could be so many blockages from the Ministry is very damning. It is a travesty of justice that a chance for the salvage was not given. Too many loop holes in the story as pointed out by Babu Joseph. It could be a good subject for someones Doctorate too.

  7. I have visited kairali along with my friend Sadanandan when the ship anchored at Cochin port to see our friend. Still it will be better to conduct detailed enquiry on the aspect of piracy

    1. Sir, please contact me at

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  9. What if it was for an insurance scam. saw that they bought the ship for 5.81 cr and claimed and got insurance of 6.81 cr. not sure if the facts and figures are to be believed but the delay and way the ksc handled the case seems to make me think that way.

  10. Kairali was earlier an unregistered OBO ( Oil / Bulk/ Ore) ship which was laid up because Classification Societies refused to give permission to operate her with all the holds filled with iron ore, because of inherent structural deficiencies. The owners of the vessel had earmarked the vellel for scrapping , when, they heard that some illiterate Government Officers from India were in Europe looking for a second hand ship, to operate in India. The Government Officers (IAS. ?) who probably had never seen a ship in their life succumbed to a few beers and charms of a couple of prostitutes, and bought the scrap with Public money. The ship was registered under IRS ( Indian Register of Shipping, Then a new registry set up by Government of India, with Surveyors and Officers who were as corrupt, and ignorant , and selfish, as Indian Ministers and IAS officers) with permission to load all the hatches up to the brim, ignoring all the adverse findings, calculations, and reports of the earlier European Classification Society) .
    OBOs were an unsuccessful design and class of ship, which was notorious for their structural weakness, and whose construction was stopped, because of numerous structural failiures reported from different parts of the world. Most of them got laid-up and were used as storage tanks, or got scrapped.
    As usual, incompetent, and corrupt Indian Government and Officials are directly responsible for the Kairali Tragedy.

    1. It is no Margoa it is Mormugao Port

    2. Having sailed for 41 years & sailed on OBO ships, I disagree with Mr.Tony’s writing saying that Kairali was an OBO.

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  11. Well I lost my friend Mr Sabestian Baby, Tr.Radio Officer, we both cleared COP II togater 1975 and both joined as Trainee SCI and after 6 moths he joined KSC. So sad ....Well anyone have the crew list and the pic of all like to have....Pls my email

    1. Please contact me

  12. In today’s Malayala Manorama, I read an article about Kairali’s disappearance.
    I started sailing in 1976 and obtained Master Mariner’s certificate in 1984. Have worked on various types / sizes of ships during my 41 years of uninterrupted sea life & have bee in command for more than 30 years including Very Large Crude Carriers of 300,000 tonnes ( 2 million barrels ) carrying capacity, for over 20 years.
    Capt.Gopinath Kaimal ( late) who worked on Kairali for sometime was from my native place Ambalapuzha , known to me very well , and he was my mentor & guide for joining Merchant Navy.
    Luckily, he signed off in Goa before she sailed ( because his daughter was getting married). Understand that one Cadet ( a Warrier ? ) also signed off in Goa due to medical grounds. So, both their lives were saved.
    I did meet the Captain, few officers & crew of Kairali at Ballad Pier, one night in Bombay when we we were all waiting there for our boats to take us to our ships in the anchorage.Think it was just prior Kairali went to Marmagoa, and I was a cadet on State of Rajasthan.
    I had many talks with Gopi Chettan (Capt.Kaimal ) during my next leave regarding the incident.
    It is unfortunate that many people from opinions & publish them without knowing / investigating the facts.
    How many people are aware of
    - Hazards of carrying iron ore ?
    - Transportable moisture limits ?
    - What happens if the TML exceeds the limit ?
    - What is the danger of Liquifaction ?
    - The importance of securing the hatch covers & the ship in general, before proceeding to open sea … and that also during the peak of the monsoon ?
    - What kind of communication systems were on board ships in 1979 ?
    - No daily position reporting procedures were practiced in 1979.

    I strongly believe that Kairali sailed out from Marmagoa in a hurry after loading , without battening down her hatches ( not sure if she sailed during night ?), the chief officer ( probably not experienced) thinking that the hatches can be secured after daylight.
    Due to the monsoon ( understand that as per IMD, it was BF scale 7 winds on that day), heavy seas / sprays started shipping into her cargo holds ( with unsecured hatch covers) , started forming slurry, then cargo shifting resulting in a sudden capsize.

    Search was initiated only many days afterwards… and thus no traces were found.

    Pirating of ships of such size during that time was non existent. Before / During and after this incident, I have sailed several times close to Socotra & Somalia.
    Somalian piracy started with capturing fishing vessels & then went to bigger ships , much later.
    Also, how many of you are aware that Somalian pirates have never captured an Indian or Japanese flag ship till now ?
    The Indian crew who were captured by them were all working on foreign flag ships.
    I myself have transited the Somalian piracy areas several times with & without armed guards.

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  14. From where did Unnikrishnan Gopinath get the information that the hatch covers were not battened down, because the Chief Officer of the Kairaly was incompetent?
    Even after sailing for many years as a Master Mariner, it is unfortunate that he makes allegations about an individual, without concrete evidence. Kairali was not the first bulk- carrier to sink, and ships of that design are not built anymore, because of its inherent structural deficiencies. Responsible shipping companies which owned such vessels took them out of their fleet, and scrapped them. Many Indian companies continued operating them, because Indians give more value to money , gold,, profits and votes, more than human lives.