New Delhi: The body of Indian seafarer Bejoy Sequeira, which was stuck in Mauritius for weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, finally returned to India last week, and his family buried his remains Thursday.
Sequeira’s family, which is based in Goa, said they wanted a second autopsy to be conducted on his remains to ascertain whether he died of Covid-19, but could not do so because of legal entanglements. The first autopsy was conducted by local authorities in Mauritius, which noted the cause of death as pulmonary embolism (blockage in one of arteries in the lungs).
As reported by ThePrint earlier, the 37-year-old Bejoy Sequeira died on 17 September aboard private cargo vessel MV Jabal Al Khawr, which was travelling from Malaysia to South Africa. He was the chief cook aboard the ship.
Upon Sequeira’s death, the vessel, owned by the Oman Shipping Company, was diverted to Mauritius. From 17 to 30 September, the body was kept in a “mortuary” on the vessel, after which it was kept in Jeetu Hospital, Port Louis. It was repatriated to the family in Goa last Friday.
On 21 September, after the ship was diverted to Mauritius, the captain tested positive for Covid-19, the Indian High Commission in Mauritius had told ThePrint in an email.
Shipping company claims Covid not a factor
Speaking to ThePrint through a WhatsApp call, Kevin Vale, the agent for the Oman Shipping Company stationed in Mauritius, said the vessel departed from that country on 1 October and continued on its course to South Africa.
According to the Oman Shipping Company, the autopsy carried out by Mauritian authorities found that Sequeira “passed away as a result of pulmonary embolism, the body being free of infection or any contagious diseases”.
“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,” the company said in a statement on 5 October.
Sequeira’s family, who communicated with him on WhatsApp during his last days, however, alleged that he was suffering from Covid-19 symptoms like high fever and cough in the days leading up to his death.
This was corroborated by Nimsen Anthony, an Able Seaman (AB) and member of the deck department who was aboard MV Jabal Al Khawr when Sequeira died. Anthony returned to his home in Kochi, Kerala, on 13 October, after the vessel completed its voyage in South Africa on 9 October.
He told ThePrint: “Around 5-6 September, Bejoy started getting throat pain, and one time, he coughed up blood.”
Anthony added that the captain of the ship provided Sequeira with oxygen support and an oxygen mask a day before he died. “I’m pretty sure he died of Covid,” he said.
“I needed to come back but I have trouble sleeping. I keep thinking of Bejoy. Every day, he would come into my cabin and we would talk, and even eat together. He was my close friend,” he added.
Family seeks ‘full’ autopsy report, Goa govt body helping
Sequeira’s family are currently seeking the “full” report of the autopsy conducted by Mauritian authorities. The Goa government’s NRI Affairs Commission is also assisting the family in the matter.
“We have asked the Indian High Commission in Mauritius to get documents, including a full autopsy report, from Mauritian authorities. Whatever ‘post-mortem report’ we have received so far is a page-long and is not detailed. We hope to get the full report by early next week,” Anthony D’Souza, NRI Affairs director and nodal officer appointed to deal with seafarers’ issues, told ThePrint.
“If it is a Covid case, we need to know,” he added.
The family has also accused Oman Shipping Company and V-Ships, a Mumbai-based crew management company which employed Sequeira for over ten years, of negligence and not providing medical support in time.
“Even if the vessel passed through the Sunda Strait, they could have turned back and stopped in Indonesia. It would have taken two days of sailing,” said Sequeira’s brother Eldon, who is also a seafarer.
ThePrint also contacted Amitabh Kumar, the Director General of Shipping, government of India, but he declined to comment.
Burial on wife’s request
After the body was repatriated last week, it was kept at Goa Medical College & Hospital (GMC) while the family was seeking a second autopsy report.
“We have seen the body, but we cannot conduct a second autopsy until we see the first autopsy report conducted by the Mauritius hospital,” said Dr Andre Fernandes, head of the GMC’s department of forensic medicine and toxicology.
Eldon explained that as access to the first autopsy report continued to get delayed, the family went ahead with the funeral on the wishes of his late brother’s wife, Femila.
(Edited by Rachel John)