Coastal safety: More questions than answers

Our Mumbai Bureau | Updated on November 17, 2017

The Ship MV Rak Carrier with the helicopter operating in its vicinity.Photo : Supplied by Defence

Why was the vessel anchored off the Mumbai coast for such a long time?  Spares and provisions could have been obtained from Mumbai fairly easily.

What exactly led to the sinking of cargo ship MV Rak Carrier off Mumbai coast last week? News reports quoting the crew said water started entering the ship on Thursday morning and they (crew) could not do anything to control it.

The vessel sank by the afternoon on the same day. The Panama flagged bulk carrier with over 60,000 tonnes of coal had been apparently anchoring for a fortnight at the very spot – near the entrance of the Mumbai harbour — where it sank.

The ship that left Indonesian port of Lubunk Tutung on June 14 on way to Dahej in Gujarat, was reportedly forced to anchor at the spot on June 21 due to some technical problems. The captain of the ship has reportedly stated that he was awaiting arrival of spare parts and provisions.

All the 30 crew were rescued by the Mumbai Coast Guard after receiving distress calls. The police personnel at the Yellow-Gate Police Station in Mumbai have reportedly registered a case against the captain and the crew of the ship.

The 27-year old vessel reportedly contains 290 tonnes of fuel oil and 50 tonnes of diesel, besides the cargo. The Coast Guard's anti-pollution response vessel said to be keeping a watch for a possible oil spill.

The mishap raises several questions. Why was the vessel anchored there for such a long time? Dahej, the port of destination, was just another day's voyage. Spares and provisions could have been obtained from Mumbai fairly easily. Was there any effort made to pump out the water?

Do the owner of the vessel or his agent or the charterer know about the condition of the vessel.

The vessel was owned by Delta Shipping and Marine Service, Qatar. The cargo belongs to Adani Enterprises in Gujarat. The Director-General of Shipping has ordered an enquiry into the incident.

Pollution and safety

The sinking of the vessel has also raised concerns on oil pollution and coastal safety.

On July 31, another ship, MV Pavit ran aground near Mumbai's Juhu beach.

The marine security agencies apparently had no clue about this unmanned, abandoned vessel entering the coastal waters. This happened just a month after another ship MV Wisdom, which was being towed from Colombo to the Alang ship-breaking yard, got grounded near Juhu beach after it lost its tow. Fortunately its fuel tank was empty.

All these happed just three years after the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai, revealing the vulnerability that persists in the maritime security of the country.

The CAG report tabled in the Parliament on Friday raised issues on the loopholes in the functioning of the Coast Guard since the Mumbai attacks. It warns that nearly 50 per cent of offshore patrol vessels are too old and need to be decommissioned.

In the case of fast patrol craft, the figure rises as high as 72 per cent. It says even newly inducted vessels lack critical equipment, including guns and identification radar.

Sea patrols

The report noted that, of the 14 new stations sanctioned by government since the Mumbai attacks, only five are operational. Some of these stations are operating on temporarily leased land without adequate equipment or facilities.

The report also notes that although the Coast Guard stepped up sea patrols after the Mumbai attacks, night-flying on the western and eastern coasts came down due to manpower shortages.

However, Coast Guard officials denied that these incidents exposed lapses in the coastal security and said it failed to detect the unmanned tanker as it was thought to be sunk.

According to the Inspector General of Coast Guards, Mr Surinder Pal Singh Basra, during the monsoon, ships do get stranded on the West coast and it is not a new phenomenon. In 2009 as many as 21 ships had got stranded. “This time, the marooned ships got attention because all the three came close to Mumbai's coast,” he said.

He said routine marine surveillance is on 24x7 but air surveillance has been hampered due to bad weather. Additional manpower can be deployed for protecting the coast but it will not happen immediately as training of personnel is time-consuming, he said.

(With inputs from Nivedita Ganguly and Rahul Wadke)

Published on August 07, 2011

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