On a spring day in 2005, an enormous blue oil tanker made its way in from the wild North Atlantic waves to a seaside oil town with a dead body on board.
In a different corner of the earth, a 13-year-old girl went about a normal day in a Polynesian paradise, with no idea her father had been killed 13,000 kilometres away.
Lupe Samuel still doesn’t have the answers and nobody was ever arrested — even though the Royal Canadian Mounted Police believe they know who killed her father.
“I really want to know what happened,” she told CBC News in an interview on Thursday. “Why did that guy try to kill my father? Is it my father’s fault? I just want to know why.”
Manoa Talavalu was a 52-year-old sailor from Tuvalu — a small cluster of sandy islands struggling to stay above water in the South Pacific.
He spent most of his time on boats. Samuel remembers he would come home for about a month at a time, and then head to sea again. His travels took him all around the world.
In April 2005, he left Boston aboard the Nordscot — a Liberian-flagged oil tanker bound for the Come By Chance refinery in eastern Newfoundland.
Two days before reaching its destination, Talavalu got into an argument with a Latvian man. Samuel was 20 years old when she met another sailor on the ship, who told her his account of what happened.
“He was arguing with a guy. They got into a fight. Then my father punched him,” she said.
Her father went to his room. The next morning his door was locked and there was no answer when crew members came knocking. He was dead inside with bruises on his head.
News of the killing came and went without fanfare in Newfoundland and Labrador — a few brief mentions on the radio, some write-ups online and then no followup for 14 years.
Police confirmed in 2005 they suspected a Latvian man had killed Talavalu on international waters, but said they didn’t take a statement from the man when the boat docked in Come By Chance.
According to the RCMP, the crime happened outside its jurisdiction and did not involve any Canadians so they had no reason to investigate further.
That drew the ire of Liberian officials, who said they would have conducted their own investigation if they knew a crime had been committed. Scott Bergeron, until recently the head of the Liberian ship registry, said the RCMP didn’t reach out until eight days after the man was killed.
By that time, Talavalu’s body was on its way to the South Pacific and the suspect had gone home to Latvia.
It was too late.
‘You look like your father’
Fourteen years later, Samuel still remembers her mother getting the phone call. They assumed he had died of an illness at sea.
They didn’t know anything else until two other Tuvaluan sailors returned home with a tale of homicide on the high seas.
“I didn’t even get any answer from the police,” Samuel said. “No statement or police report from when my father was killed. It’s sad that they didn’t even clarify what [had] happened.”
Samuel said she wasn’t curious about what happened for a long time — until she ended up working alongside one of the sailors six years ago.
“He told me, ‘You look like your father,'” she said. “He said he was with my father on the boat at the time he passed away. And then he told me the story.”
Samuel has a few photos of her father and memories of the brief time he was in her life. She doesn’t have any sense of justice, knowing her father’s killer is still out there — perhaps on land in Latvia, or at sea around the world, where nobody knows what he’s done.
“I feel so sad,” she said. “The people there shouldn’t have let that guy [have] freedom.”
Source: CBC Canada