Ship’s cook, victim of homicide onboard

Francois Hebert, Chief Cook,
MV Umiavut, RIP

The death of Francois Hebert, Quebec City based Chief Cook on board the Canadian flagged cargo ship MV Umiavut, has been ruled a homicide by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). He is reported to have died on Saturday, Sept 15th, but was discovered in his cabin, at around 9am the following morning, when he did not report for work. At the time, the ship was sailing through the Strait of Belle Isle, on the Labrador coast, on it’s way to Montreal from Nunavut. Mr Hebert was a permanent employee of the Canadian shipping company, NEAS, having worked for them for three years prior.

Shortly after the discovery, the Captain notified Canadian Coast Guard which instructed the ship to proceed to anchor, off nearby Blanc Sablon, Quebec, in the far eastern reaches of the province. The sailor’s body was landed, and sent to St Johns, Newfoundland, for an autopsy. The Surete du Quebec, the provincial police force, first responded to the call, and determined that the vessel came under the RCMP’s jurisdiction. They then assisted the local RCMP and the Major Crimes Unit from Corner Brook in the investigation. The 21 crew members were questioned, as the death was being investigated as a “sudden death”.

The RCMP spent considerable time aboard the vessel while it was at anchor off Quebec, gathering information and conducting interviews of the crew members. The ship was released several days later, on Wednesday Sept 19, and proceeded on its voyage, arriving at it’s home berth in Valleyfield, outside Montreal, late Friday afternoon, Sept 21. The death was subsequently determined by the coroner, to be a homicide.

NEAS fleet photo by NEAS

The MV Umiavut is a 9,682 dwt Canadian flagged, ice strengthened, general cargo ship, used for arctic community resupply. It was built in 1988, and is owned by Umialarik Transport of Montreal, and operated by Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping Inc. (NEAS). She is scheduled for one more trip north, before the end of the 2012 resupply season.

Investigators from Newfoundland are currently in Montreal, continuing their work. The RCMP spokesperson decline comments on possible suspect(s), and no arrest have been made in the case.

I extend my condolence to Mr. Hebert’s family on this
tragic event. His funeral will be held in Quebec City, this Saturday, Sept 29th; you can click here for more information. You can read the RCMP press release, and here is a news story.

Working on a ship provides an abundance of challenges, the trickiest
ones are always the interpersonal relationships on board. The confining
nature of mother nature and the steel box that is a ship, offers very
few avenues for solace, and serve to amplify tensions on board. Perhaps
the ever increasing workload, physical, regulatory, commercial, etc,
have become excessive stresors to seafarers. The ever present and
enhanced financial pressures of distant home life poses additional
challenges to the psyche of a sailors. The pressure cooker feel of ship
life may have played a role in this homicide.

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