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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Nilam busts govt’s coastal security claim

Marine Agencies Didn't Act Even 6 Hrs After Ship Lost Anchor Off Chennai


Chennai: The beaching of oil tanker MT Pratibha Cauvery in Chennai on Wednesday exposed serious lapses in security and showed that the government's claims, about putting in place a foolproof coastal defence apparatus after terror visited Mumbai by sea in 2008, were totally unfounded.
    Not only did the coast guard, marine police and the navy fail to rescue the stranded crew of the ageing vessel, they appeared to find nothing amiss even six hours after the huge ship lost anchor and drifted towards the shore. A coast guard vessel eventually arrived on the spot more than six hours after the Prathibha Cauvery crew sent out distress signals on Wednesday morning. 

    Veeresh Mallik, a senior maritime safety expert in Delhi, said the director-general of shipping and Chennai port officials should be held accountable for allowing a 31-year-old vessel to ply in Indian waters. 
    "The DG shipping does nothing about an alarming increase in cases of dead vessels," he said, referring to the tanker's losing its main propulsion plant, boilers and auxiliaries due to the absence of power. "The authorities should investigate reports that the licence and insurance of the vessel had expired," Mallik added. 
    Indian ports including Chennai and Mumbai have 
become a safe haven for dead vessels, he said. The grounded vessel was awaiting permission from the owner to sail to a dry dock for maintenance as it was not seaworthy. 
    Security experts said ships can enter Indian waters at will as there are no security checks. Another 26/11 is a very real possibility, say marine defence specialist. At least 12 ships were abandoned by their owners in the sea off the Chennai coast, with five in outer anchorage. 
    The Pratibha Cauvery is the second large vessel to run aground along the Chennai coast in less than a year. Another dead vessel, OSM Arena, beached near Marina in Cyclone Thane last December. Several large vessels, in
cluding cargo ship MV Wisdom and a Panama-flagged vessel MV Pavit, have run aground in Mumbai in the past three years. 
    A senior official in DG Shipping, Mumbai, said the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) in Chennai, which is supposed to inspect vessels entering waters off the city, faces an acute staff crunch. 
    "Despite repeated alerts, the ministry of shipping has not filled vacancies in the MMD," he said. "The MMD, Chennai, does not have senior officials, with the post of deputy chief surveyor and vessel surveyor remaining vacant. It is only clearing certificates of seamen now." If MMD had the manpower it could have 
saved the lives of the sailors who died while trying to escape from Prathibha Cauvery, he said. 
    Control of India's ports is the purview of the shipping ministry and the coast guard and Navy blame the shipping ministry allowing ships that are not seaworthy into docks in various ports. 
    "In the United States, for example, Port State Control under the US Coast Guard, monitors the entry and exit of vessels as it is a matter of national security," a coast guard official said. 
    "In India, anyone can abandon a ship with its crew near a port. There are no rules that make the owners accountable for accidents caused by such vessels."

A coast guard helicopter lands with rescued members of MT Pratibha Cauvery in Chennai on Thursday


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