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Last-minute hitch may sink Vizhinjam crew exchange plan

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on July 14, 2020 Published on July 14, 2020

The Kerala State Maritime Board has sought the intervention of the Chief Minister to facilitate crew change on one of the largest container ships in the world at the Vizhinjam port, a ground-breaking opportunity for the minor port near here.

The crew change is scheduled to happen on Wednesday, and officials on board the massive container ship Ever Globe have secured the verbal approval from the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO). After hearing about Vizhinjam, another major shipping company had proposed to send in three of its own vessels for crew change, making it six on a trot likely calling at the port during rest of July.

Precious revenue earner

This would have helped Vizhinjam, that offers the closest access to international shipping route on the West Coast, mark itself out as a major destination for crew change. The Covid-19 situation is making many liners to call at Indian ports in this manner, promising precious revenue for the latter. Given the context, a lot of expectations were built around Ever Globe’s call at the port on Wednesday.

Immigration and Customs authorities had initially extended all clearances for the process to get under way, said VJ Mathew, Chairman, Kerala Maritime Board. Normally, immigration papers are processed at the port office but now officials are saying that they want to get on board the vessel. They seem to ignore the fact that this could trigger quarantine requirements under the Covid-19 protocol, he said.

“In fact, they are insisting on boarding the vessel and demanding a tug to ferry them. We don’t have one and proposed them alternatives – a tug at the Kollam port, the nearest, but its smaller size was not acceptable and was rejected. So too were others, which included a vessel of the Fisheries Department/Marine Enforcement and a supply vessel of the Vizhinjam International Seaport.”

Chief Minister’s help sought

The Maritime Board later contacted the Chief Minister’s Office for help and it had offered to intervene. Asked if the crew change would take place as scheduled, Mathew said that the FRRO had made some enquiries about the vessel which he feels is a good augury on the eve of the scheduled crew exchange. But if technical objections are allowed to mess up the procedure, it would cost Vizhinjam dear.

Elias John, President, Vizhinjam Mother Port Action Samithi, said that the crew change is a major milestone in the development of even the Vizhinjam mother port. “We have one of the largest vessels in the world requesting the crew change facility. We will miss this golden opportunity at our own peril. This is the first big opportunity for Vizhinjam to advertise its cost-competitive credentials to the world.”

John suspected that the same lobby which has been working against the development of the mother port is at work here as well. “This lobby is worried that Vizhinjam, with its proximity to the international (East-West) shipping route and the deep draft depths of up to 24 metres could take a way a bulk of the business heading for the East and Far-East. It is time we expose and neutralise its machinations.”

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Published on July 14, 2020
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