Father tells of pain after son's death on tanker off Sharjah coast

Indian family describe heartache after 23-year-old dies at sea in suspected suicide

Bhupendra Shri, 23, died on board the MT Sea Princess days before it was due to make port in India. Courtesy: Pradeep Kumar
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A family appealed for answers as to how their son died on board a shipping tanker, anchored off Khor Fakkan, days before he was expected to arrive home in India.

Suresh Shri issued an emotional plea to seafarers' charities after his son, Bhupendra, 23, an ordinary seaman, was found dead by crewmates in the boiler room of the Mt Sea Princess on Thursday, January 28.

Police who boarded the vessel are treating the case as a suspected suicide.

Special permission, which has since been granted, was needed from local authorities to bring the body ashore because the death occurred outside territorial waters.

The tanker with 13 crew on board was headed from Sharjah to ship-breakers at Alang, in Gujarat, India, where it was to be dismantled and sold for scrap, when Bhupendra died.

My son is not with us today, but we don't want any other seafarer's life to be lost again

Mr Shri received a call from the ship’s crew at 10.30am on Saturday, January 30, to notify him of his son's death, two days after the body was found.

“That call has devastated our lives,” said Mr Shri, who appealed for assistance from UAE authorities to repatriate the body of his son to the family home in Uttar Pradesh.

"To this minute, we are unable to believe this has happened," Mr Shri said.

“I don’t know what happened to Bhupendra. There was no reason for him to end his life.

“My wife is totally broken, I can’t see her in this condition. We want a thorough investigation to be done."

Crew on board the 100-metre tanker that left Sharjah for Khor Fakkan on January 26 are being offered pastoral care by the Mission to Seafarers charity.

The Consulate General of India in Dubai received permission to bring the body ashore so it could be placed in forensic containment before being repatriated.

Mr Shri said the recruitment agent that employed Bhupendra and the shipping company that managed the Mt Sea Princess took two days to confirm his son's death.

The MT Sea Princess. Courtesy Global Tankers Pvt
The MT Sea Princess, pictured while in dock, is anchored in the Gulf of Oman. Global Tankers Pvt

"I immediately called the manning agent in Mohali to find out the truth, but the phone was continually switched off," Mr Shri said.

“They did not have the heart to call us. I don’t know how they can be so cruel.

“We want to see our son as early as possible. We have lost everything.

"My son is not with us today, but we don't want any other seafarer's life to be lost. We don't want any other families to suffer."

The ship's captain, Nirmal Singh Brar, and 11 other men remain onboard the Mt Sea Princess, waiting at the alpha anchorage at Khor Fakkan for permission to leave for India.

It is one of 30 ships anchored off Khor Fakkan, one of the region's largest deep sea container terminals.

“I have finished my contract and will sign off when I get home,” said Capt Singh Brar.

“The police have taken a statement from all the crew as to what happened.

“Now the investigation has been done, our priority is the repatriation of the body.

“Bhupendra was a nice, polite young man, very obedient and was no problem at all with anyone.

“We were shocked and some of the crew panicked. It is very sad for all of us.”

The ship is owned by Global Tankers Pvt of India, and operated in the UAE by Prime Tankers.

The managing director of Prime Tankers, Jugwinder Singh Brar, said the company’s representatives had been in regular contact with the family since the death was reported.

Data published by maritime insurance providers, the P&I Club, showed suicide rates among seafarers have tripled since 2014, from 4.4 per cent to 15 per cent, with 26 per cent of merchant sailors displaying signs of depression.

To manage cases of poor mental health, Christian charity the Sailors’ Society established a 24-hour confidential helpline for officers, crew and their families.

It includes crisis response assistance and counselling through various channels such as email and WhatsApp and other social media chat platforms.

Appointments can also be made with counsellors at ports seafarers will visit during their contract.

“This is a young life tragically lost and which should have never happened,” said David Hammond of UK shipping charity Human Rights At Sea, which is supporting the family.

“Lessons must be identified, learnt and transparently highlighted.”

Seafarers and their family members can contact shipping company Tristar's dedicated helpline by calling 001-989-3128181 or the Sailors' Society's instant chat via wellnessatsea.org.

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