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Force Majeure Declared to Bring Home Deceased Captain After Two Months

deceased captain being brought home
(file photo)

Published Jun 8, 2021 5:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

The containership Ital Libera is now heading across the Indian Ocean towards the Suez Canal on route to Italy. Under normal circumstances that would not be news, but yesterday Hapag-Lloyd advised customers of the unique circumstances as a force majeure has been declared with the ship diverting from Asia to Italy in the latest step in its sad saga.

“We have received further news from our partner Evergreen, and much to our regret, we must inform you that the captain of MV Ital Libera, unfortunately, passed away on the vessel,” the customer advisory said. “Hapag-Lloyd expresses our condolences to the captain’s family.”

The news that the boxship will reach the Suez Canal on June 11 comes two months after the vessel’s saga began. The 5,090 TEU containership completed what seemed like a routine crew change in Durban, South Africa at the end of March, including bringing aboard a new captain, Angelo Capurro, age 61, an Italian citizen. Captain Capurro had made the journey with stops in Doha and Johannesburg and reportedly tested negative for COVID-19 before boarding the ship. 

They sailed on April 1 for a two-week voyage across the Indian Ocean. During that voyage, a number of the crew reported becoming sick, with some reports suggesting the captain began showing symptoms of COVID-19 as early as April 2. At least two crew members reportedly tested positive for the virus. Before the ship reached Singapore, Captain Capurro died while still at sea, possibly from COVID-19 or other circumstances aggravated by the virus.

The ship’s operator, Italia Marittima, a subsidiary of Evergreen Line, informed the local authorities and the decision was made to divert the vessel to the anchorage off Jakarta where the 20 crew aboard were to remain for two weeks as part of a quarantine. The ship arrived on April 18 and the companies working with the Italian authorities began seeking permission and making the arrangements to have the captain’s remains landed and flown home to his family in Italy. 

Despite repeated complaints from the family, who also launched a Go Fund Me site to pay the expenses of bringing the captain home, authorities in Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia refused the requests of the Italian authorities on the grounds of COVID-19 quarantine. Italy ordered that an autopsy be performed to determine the cause of death and that his remains should be immediately repatriated. 

Italia Marittima said through the formal intervention of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the local Italian Embassies, they applied to several countries to disembark the body so that it could be immediately returned to the family. They appealed to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Philippines, as well as South Africa. All the countries, however, had implemented COVID-19 protocols that did not allow the disembarkation of Capurro's remains.

After the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs notified Italia Marittima that all options had failed, the company made the humanitarian decision to cancel the voyage and deliver the body back to Italy onboard the ship. AIS data shows that the vessel departed the Jakarta anchorage on May 27 and made an overnight refueling stop in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The vessel is due to arrive in Italy on June 15. Evergreen and Italia have expressed their condolences to the family and their regrets over the circumstances brought on by the ongoing restrictions due to COVID-19. 

“Slow but inexorable you're coming back dad. I will never stop ′′thanking′′ those who made it possible for you to come back after ′′just′′ two months. Mourning already is not something easy to manage, but ′′thanks′′ to you have managed to postpone this long and painful process of awareness of the ultimate loss of a loved one, two months now. Two months that you managed to fill with grief and doubt for the loss of my father,” writes the captain’s daughter on social media.

The sad saga of the captain of the Ital Libera also brings renewed attention to the plight of seafarers during the pandemic, which has been the focus of so many organizations ranging from the seafarers’ unions to the International Maritime Organization that continue to decry the humanitarian crisis.