Pakistani captain assaults Lankan ship officer

Second Officer Bhanu Lasanthi describes her trauma on Liberian ship.
Leon Berenger reports

Sri Lanka’s only female seaman officer is in a Colombo hospital after suffering a brutal and unprovoked attack two weeks ago on board a foreign cargo vessel. According to the details of the case, the female officer was on duty when she was assaulted by the ship’s captain, a Pakistani national. The ship, M.v. Lake Maja, is a Liberian-flagged merchant vessel.

Second Officer Deshakaru Muhadiramalage Bhanu Lasanthi, 30 years, of Balangoda, boarded the Lake Maja at the Indian port Mumbai in May this year. On October 30, the Lake Maja set out from the port of Surabaya, in Indonesia, for Port Gove, in Australia.

Speaking from her hospital bed in Colombo, Ms. Lasanthi described to the Sunday Times the incident that led to her brutal assault on the Lake Maja.

Assault victim Bhanu Lasanthi. Pic by Gemunu Wellage

“It happened on the night of October 31, the day after the Laka Maja left Surabaya,” she said. “I was on my watch on the bridge that evening when Captain Liaquat Chowdury came up to me and started shouting for no reason, saying I had failed to answer messages on the communication set. He grabbed me by the wrist, flung me to the floor and started punching me in the face and lower body, yelling that he would teach me a lesson.

“I could not recall receiving any messages on my walkie-talkie. I tried to explain this to the captain, but he wouldn’t listen. I was in a state of complete shock. We were alone on the bridge. There was no one around to come to my aid.

“Finally, I managed to reach for the ship’s emergency button. On hearing the alarm, a number of my shipmates rushed to the scene, but when they saw the captain, they hesitated. They were reluctant to act because the captain was involved.

“When we reached Australia, I sought medical treatment from the local authorities. The Australian police were called in and the captain was arrested. He was later bailed out. He has been ordered to appear in court in Australia tomorrow [November 15],” she said.

Ms. Lasanthi said she had no visible external injuries to show, but she suffered pain in several parts of her body, including face and stomach. “I am in need of medical treatment, and that is why I am in hospital,” she said. “Involved parties should understand this before they ask me to leave the hospital and go home,” she said.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF) is seeking compensation for Ms. Lasanthi from the Hong Kong-based shipping company, according to the federation’s local representative, Ranjan Perera.

The shipping company has dismissed the captain and has promised its fullest co-operation and support in Ms. Lasanthi’s case, said Mr. Perera, who is also secretary of the National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka (NUSS).

Mr. Perera said the shipping company has admitted that Captain Liaquat Chowdury, who has 14 years’ maritime service behind him, was involved in two similar cases of assault, although he continued to work as a senior ship officer. Meanwhile, the Ministry of External Affairs is awaiting a written complaint from the victim, Ms. Lasanthi, before proceeding to take action.

Somadasa Wijesundera, the Ministry’s Consular Affairs chief, told the Sunday Times that he had spoken to Ms. Lasanthi on the telephone and that he would be taking the matter up with the International Police (Interpol).

“We are treating this matter with the utmost seriousness,” Mr. Wijeysundera said. “Our High Commissioner in Canberra, Senaka Walgampaya, PC has been instructed to look after Ms. Lasanthi’s interests when the case comes before an Australian court on November 15.” Meanwhile, the Sunday Times understands that the shipping company’s local agent has tried to play down the issue.

According to sources, the agent had tried to persuade Ms. Lasanthi to go home to Balangoda as soon as she arrived in the country, six days ago. Pressure from the local agent has eased off since the case became public news and various parties, including the authorities, became interested in Ms. Lasanthi’s welfare.

The M.v. Laka Maja’s local shipping agent could not be reached for comment, despite several attempts by the Sunday Times to talk to the agent.

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