Movement only after containers are removed from channel.

Our Bureau

Mumbai, Aug. 9

Mumbai and JNPT port terminals are likely to be shut for traffic for at least a week, as containers fell off a ship after it collided with another vessel on Saturday, blocking the ports' main channel.

A senior Mumbai Port official said it will take at least five-six days to clear nearly 250 containers sunk in the main navigation channel. It will be the first time ever that the ports will be shut for such a long time following an accident. A JNPT official said there had been no movement of ships from or to the port on Monday.

Mumbai harbour has been closed for traffic after the collision of the container vessel MSC Chitra and the break-bulk vessel Khalizia-III, since the week-end.

The container vessel was on its way to Mundra port in Gujarat from JNPT, when it was hit by the break bulk carrier which was coming to berth at Mumbai port.

Most of the 20 ft and 40 ft containers that fell off are lying underwater, making movement of large ships through the common channel for Mumbai and JNPT terminals difficult, said the official. The ship is not in the main channel, but is grounded a little away from it.

As on Monday, there were about 80 vessels waiting at sea for berths at the three port terminals at JN Port. These vessels are likely to be diverted to Pipavav, Mundra or Kandla ports in Gujarat, said a port official.

JNPT has three container terminals - two run by private parties and one run by the government-owned JN Port. The port handles nearly 65 per cent of the country's container traffic.

A statement by the Directorate-General of Shipping, which is overseeing the salvage operations, said on Monday that the channel is closed during the night for any shipping traffic.

The vessel is dangerously tilted to port side which has resulted in falling off of about 120 containers from its deck and heavy oil spillage is sighted from her fuel tanks," the statement said.

Salvage operations will take time as the sunken containers have to be first located and marked before they are retrieved.

Dr S. B. Agnihotri, Director-General of Shipping, said the collision might have taken place due to navigation or radio communication failure. "We have ordered a probe into the incident," he said.

There were more than 2,400 containers on board, of which 31 are loaded with toxic and inflammable materials. The cargo also consisted of textiles and pesticides.

Dr Agnihotri said the vessel has about 1,200 tonnes of fuel oil in the ruptured tanks on the port side and remaining (fuel) in her starboard side which is out of water. A total of 2,700 tonnes of fuel oil and 300 tonnes of diesel oil are on board. "Two-three tonnes of oil/ hour are leaking from the ship," he said.

SMIT, Dutch salvage experts, have arranged for equipment which is likely to arrive from Singapore in the next two days. "Effective salvage operations can begin only by the end of the month when the weather subsides," said the statement.

The Panama-registered container vessel was built in 1980 and has a gross tonnage of 33113. The break bulk ship with which it collided has been brought to and berthed at Mumbai Port.

An official with Mediterranean Shipping Company, owners of the ill-fated container ship, said that the ship was coming from Dubai was to pick up cargo from JN Port and Mundra, and was scheduled to sail to Africa next week. The break bulk ship Khalija-III, had in June been involved in another accident at Mumbai Port last month, said the official. A Customs official at JN Port said that a meeting of all stakeholders will be held on Tuesday to seek details of the cargoes in the containers.

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 10, 2010)
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