MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Paul Siltala spent the night of his 41st birthday working to fix an engine on the cargo ship Atlantic Forest as it sat at anchor off Port Said, Egypt. That's the last anyone has seen of him.
The ship was waiting to pass through the Suez Canal carrying humanitarian-relief supplies to Djibouti in Africa and Bombay, India. And it was supposed to be Siltala's last long voyage, earning the merchant seaman enough money to come home and take care of the family farm near Sebeka in north-central Minnesota.
Siltala was last seen leaving the engine room at 9:30 p.m. March 4. He failed to report for duty as scheduled at 4 the next morning, and Capt. J. Dorman alerted the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that he had a crewman missing.
Siltala is the fifth of Peter and Dagmar Siltala's 12 children. His father described him as "a real quiet fellow, a perfectionist in his work" with wood and machines.
"We have no sense of what happened," the father said Thursday. "But the worst things do come to mind, things a person doesn't dare say."
In e-mails and a phone call from the ship's home office, Waterman Steamship Co. in New Orleans, Siltala's parents were told that his wallet was missing but other belongings, including his passport, were found in his bunk. A search of the ship and the water alongside turned up nothing.
"No foul play indicated," the captain wired his agent. "No history of any kind concerning Mr. Siltala. Mr. Siltala is a quiet man who is a good worker. He has had no problems on the ship."
That rang true for Siltala's father and Kathi Aho, a cousin who lives in Becker.
"I have yet to see him get mad at anybody," Peter Siltala said.
"He's always been very quiet," Aho said. "He just goes unnoticed."
Local authorities at Port Said have searched area waters, family members said, and they'll ask U.S. officials in the region to monitor the search.
Mark Siltala, a brother who lives in Plymouth, said the steamship company has hired an independent investigator, who has begun interviewing the crew.
"So far, there's no indication from any crew members about what happened," Mark Siltala said. "From the way it sounds, there was no rough weather at the time. The temperature was around 60, with a slight breeze."
Family members dismiss suicide as a possibility.
"Of course it's crossed my mind, but it seems so impossible because of the type of person he is," said Hannah Halonen, a sister who lives in Hamel. "He wouldn't do that just because of what it would do to my mom and my dad."
Nor does she think he could have been carried away celebrating his birthday and gone over the side accidentally.
"He never drank," she said.
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