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Kochi, Nov 14

THE Cochin Port Trust has ordered an inquiry into the collapse of the Q-4 berth of the 75-year old Mattanchery Wharf on Sunday evening following heavy rains. The damage of the berth had resulted in the loss of around 3,500 tonnes of common salt, which sank in the channel.

The Port Chairman, Mr N. Ramachandran, has constituted an expert team comprising Prof C.K. Aravindan and Prof S.R. Gandhi of IIT, Chennai and Mr V.G. Koshy, retired Chief Engineer of Cochin Port Trust and Mr V. Chellappan, retired Chief Engineer of Chennai Port Trust to look into the different aspects of the incident. The details with regard to the terms of reference are being worked out.

According to Chairman, the Q-4 berth has been decommissioned following the mishap. However, he clarified that the decommissioning of the Q-4 berth was not likely to affect the commercial operations as the port has 16 cargo handling berths to carry out handling of loading and unloading operations. Moreover, for safety reasons, it has been decided not to use Q-3 berth for the time being, he added.

Meanwhile, the port is also drawing up plans for the reconstruction of the Mattanchery Wharf in a phased manner in consultation with the Shipping Ministry, he said.

Senior port officials said that consignment of common salt in bulk was unloaded on Q-4 on Sunday. Due to unexpected rains the cargo could not be fully evacuated on time. It got soaked in rain water and because of the increased load, the Q-4 berth along with the part of the back up area collapsed.

The CISF, Port Fire Brigade and senior officers of the port rushed to the spot and carried out emergency operations to contain the damage and salvage the cargo. These operations are still on and most of the heavy cargo stacked in the adjacent berths has been removed and the Port Engineers have been successful in confining the damage to the limited area, the officials added.

It is pointed out that about 36,000 tonnes of the bulk cargo, brought from Kandla for Travancore Cochin Chemicals was discharged at the port last evening. After discharging a portion of the cargo (around 11,000 tonnes) in Ernakulam wharf, the vessel anchored in the Mattanchery Wharf to unload the remaining portion of the cargo. The vessel sailed on Sunday morning after discharging the entire cargo.

Due to heavy rains, about 4,000 tonnes could not be removed from the wharf. The salt got soaked in the rains and a portion of the Q4 berth started caving in. It had a cascading effect and about 160 metres of the 690-metre long berth collapsed.

Heavy machinery of the Cochin Shipyard Ltd in the adjacent Q2 berth was removed last night as a precautionary measure.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 15, 2005)
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