Sunday, November 21, 2021

Ship Captain's Dead Body Kept in Freezer for Six Months

Not just bizarre but the ultimate cruelty.

At WSJ, "The Ship’s Captain Died at Sea. Six Months Later, His Body Was Still in the Freezer":

BUCHAREST—After 40 years at sea, on his last voyage before retirement, Captain Dan Sandu slipped into his cabin on the MV Vantage Wave, a cargo ship sailing away from India, feeling unwell. “Don’t worry,” he typed in what would be a final email to his wife in April. “Everything will be fine.”

Last month, the ship, by then floating off the United Arab Emirates, sent what had become a familiar plea. Captain Sandu was dead and his body was in the ship’s walk-in freezer. For six months, it had traveled thousands of miles lying near the crew’s meat and vegetables. They needed to get him back to Romania.

It was the 13th country the Vantage Wave petitioned. All had refused to receive the body.

The plight of Capt. Sandu, a 68-year-old born near the Black Sea, who decorated his home with mementos from a life on the ocean, had become a diplomatic incident. “All we wanted was to get our father home,” said his son, Andrei Sandu, also a ship captain. “How can this happen in 2021?”

Strict and uneven rules governing the world’s ports prevent the unloading of bodies suspected of being infected with the coronavirus. Though the pandemic has eased somewhat, the restrictions remain, leaving ships like the Vantage Wave to cross oceans in search of a port to offload a fallen crew member. That leaves corpses stuck for months on the world’s cargo ships, stored in freezers meant for food.

In September, a 23-year-old seaman from Ukraine died aboard a Swiss-flagged bulk carrier anchored at China’s southeastern port of Rizhao, an apparent suicide. After Chinese authorities refused to take his body, the ship traveled for nearly two months and more than 5,000 miles, to Vancouver, where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police agreed to help repatriate his body. It’s still not home.

The corpse of a Syrian cook who died off the coast of Venezuela was trapped aboard for four months. And when an Italian cargo-ship captain died off Indonesia, his body stayed in a storeroom for six weeks, for lack of cold-storage large enough, decaying in the tropical air. There currently are four seafarers’ bodies stuck aboard cargo ships, the International Maritime Organization says—as well as 36 urgent cases involving medical or humanitarian emergencies.

An Indian sailor sick with severe Covid-19 was denied entry to Singapore, Malaysia and several other Asian ports before being ferried back to India and put on a ventilator. When a Chinese officer aboard the Newmax bulk carrier collapsed, vomiting blood, Chinese port officials allowed him ashore briefly in an ambulance before returning him to the ship with some pills.

“We are spending our lives here on board to bring the goods to your house,” said the Newmax’s captain, Tymur Rudov, in a YouTube video. “What do we get in return?” he shouted into the camera. “We are not allowed to even be ill! We just have to die.”

International maritime law says shipowners must see that crews get home after assignments, but the obligation vanishes the instant a sailor dies, said Jason Chuah, a professor of maritime law at London’s City University.

And while insurance companies are meant to contribute to the cost of burying or cremating a dead seafarer, under a pact called the Maritime Labor Convention, the treaty doesn’t require them to get a body home. For the owners of ships full of cargo to be delivered on deadlines, returning to port to deposit a corpse can be onerously expensive.

That leaves shipmates, lawyers, diplomats and above all families to navigate the ever-shifting pandemic-era regulations of the international seafaring bureaucracy. The crew of one vessel declared force majeure, the “act of God” clause, which allowed them to sail more than 6,000 miles from Indonesia to Italy to return a dead captain.

“The depressing thing about this is that deceased or dead people have no rights whatsoever,” said Mr. Chuah. “It is a huge problem and reflects so poorly on our common humanity.”

The body backlog is part of a broader problem of seafarer abandonment in the era of Covid-19. More than 1,000 people were left stranded on container ships and bulk carriers this year without pay, according to estimates by the International Transport Workers’ Federation. It’s a record stemming both from pandemic-induced trade disruptions and the competitive nature of the lightly regulated global shipping industry...

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