M, V Kairaly the only ship owned by Kerala Shipping Corporation (KSC) sailed from Mar
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
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
Radio unofficially. Bombay
On 11thth July the Mitcots who were Kairali’s shipping agents in
reported to KSC that the ship did not report at 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 Djibouti
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 Socotra Island .Its original name being Oscarsord
re christened as Kairali. Norway
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
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 US . 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
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. Kuwait
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
we thought of initiating a discussion with Sri. George Daniel .His arguments
were the following. Kuwait
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.
the enquiry commission went to 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. Saudi
Now it is a common knowledge that sea piracy is taking place and we get stories of so many ships which pass through
get pirated including
some Indian ships. But in late 70s for the shipping circles in Aden
it was only a cock and bull story .So it will be quite logical to look in to Kairaly
disappearance from a piracy angle. India
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
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. Somalian
(1) The enquiry committee appointed to conduct an exhaustive enquiry in to the disappearance of the ship had only a limited mandate for visiting
and S.Arabia for 10 days. Why we were not allowed to go to Kuwait 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. Djibouti
(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
(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.”
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
(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 Email.firstname.lastname@example.org or (M) 9447115020