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Monday, November 5, 2012

Salvaging and refloating MT Pratibha Cauvery....

Chennai is crowded; over-crowded everywhere – with Deepavali drawing closer all roads lead to T Nagar – the textile place of Chennai – the Nallis, Kumarans, Pothys, Chennai Silks, Saravanas and more……

vessel as seen near lighthouse

….. this place on the sea front – not the Marina Beach, Besant Nagar Beach or Gandhi beach – the unkempt Foreshore Estate area – [nochikuppam/ doomingkuppam area] is also attracting crowds – this Sunday 4th Nov 12, people thronged its shores to have a glimpse of MT Pratibha Cauvery brought nearer shore by cyclone ‘Nilam’.  Many exclaimed that they never knew that ship would be so big; almost all had never seen ship so close – when they sail on the Bay of Bengal, they look much smaller.  The ill-fated vessel Pratibha Cauvery is a Tanker vessel of 1981 built with 16949 GRT ; Length overall (LOA) 174.05 (MTR); Indian flagged with call sign: VWQU and IMO: 7920754. It is owned by Mumbai based Pratibha Shipping Company.

Suspicions on the condition of the vessel, the validity of the documents including IRS certification have been raised in various quarters with no definite answers at this stage.  Experts [and non-experts too] are commenting on the decision of the Captain to abandon the ship and the decision of the crew to jump into the waters. 

The vessel which floats on water with lot of its portion inside the sea, loses its floatation once its runs aground and slowly gets buried into the sand.  It is indeed difficult to push it back to water, take to a place where it could be repaired and made sea-worthy again.  There are some distinct advantages for this old tanker – it is accessible; survey on how exactly she lay can easily be undertaken; being closer to the Chennai port, it is easier organizing support, including movement of Tugs and other support vessel – all this should take place in short time – perhaps longer the delay, longer the risk of her sustaining more damage or getting struck. 
with temporary lighting 
Earlier, there were reports that the salvage efforts to float the vessel will begin on Monday, 5th Nov 12.  Marine salvage is the process of rescuing a ship, its cargo, or other property from peril. Salvage encompasses rescue towing, refloating a sunken or grounded vessel, or patching or repairing a ship. Now in tune with the changing times, preventing pollution and damage to the Marine environment becomes the immediate priority when the vessel involved has substantial oil as cargo or in its holds as bunker fuel.  "Salvors" are seamen and engineers who carry out salvage to vessels that are not owned by themselves, and who are not members of the vessel's original crew.  They are highly skilled and employ equipments including cranes, tugs, floating dry docks and more.  Often salvage is arranged on ‘No Cure No Pay’ basis and the form that is universally in vogue is ‘Lloyd’s Form of Salvage agreement’ known as LOF form – LOF 2000.

It is suggested that the efforts of refloating MT Pratibha Cauvery will be the largest marine salvage operation undertaken on the Chennai coast.  Reports suggest that on Sunday, a team of nine salvage experts attempted to activate the engine.  Latest reports state that the salvage efforts would start only tomorrow due to the delayed arrival of the tug, ‘Malaviya,’ from Kakinada. According to official sources, the delay is attributed to a host of factors such as loading of tow ropes, diving and gearing devices on to the tug. These materials are essential for the operations. As of Sunday evening, the tug was still at Kakinada.  Another emergency tug vessel, SCI Ratna, being sent by Directorate General of Shipping, would arrive on Wednesday.

The stranded vessel has very little diesel oil and 357 tonnes of furnace oil. It has been decided not to move the furnace oil to a higher tank as it would be difficult for the barge with the necessary equipment to reach the vessel. Also, a portion of water in the ballast tank would either be shifted or removed to make it easier for the vessel to become afloat so that it can be moved from its current location.  Going by newspaper reports, an International contractor SMIT has been engaged for  salvage and they are checking whether there was any leakage and if water was entering it and its safety aspect.  After the loss of life, the ship has been arrested under a Court order but that would not prevent the vessel from moving from the present spot.  Perhaps the Court order would only impound its movement from the Port of Chennai and not salvaging it from its mired position. 

The vessel has a record of controversies.  TOI reports that the oil tanker had not been maintained greatly  already facing regulatory action on safety and operational grounds. Travel logs reveal it was arrested at Mangalore port in June 2012 and detained at Visakhapatnam in July for these reasons. Finally, it set sail in August for Chennai via Haldia on a ‘single voyage permission’ from Director General of shipping to deliver oil, the status indicating that approval was temporary and strictly for one journey.  The vessel entered Chennai on Sept 25; stayed for 3 days unloading – the licence for trade operations expired and was kept at outer anchorage.  Going by these, the condition of the crew was dismal and were suffering for provisions.  The vessel reportedly could not sail out before the storm and was not berthed also.   When the storm gained momentum, its anchors began dragging and was taken by strong winds.    The tanker finally ran aground….

There are continued reports in newspapers that the tanker ran aground near Besant Nagar and is at Bessie beach – to put the records straight, off Besant Nagar beach at 2.30pm.  y 3.15pm, the crew had lowered a lifeboat carrying 22 sailors, purportedly on the orders of captain Carl Fernandez. Within minutes the boat capsized. Six sailors were rescued by fishermen, and 10 others who stayed afloat wearing life jackets, were washed ashore. The remaining six were washed away. Subsequently on the same day, the vessel veered away towards North, this time landing nearer Patinappakkam [Foreshore Estate] sea shore – where it is lying now.  

As stated earlier,  the photo above taken from Tamil daily Dinamalar shows the starboard side [the right side] of the vessel at Besant Nagar beach; the  one below [courtesy RS Kannan] shows the  port side of the same vessel taken on 1st Nov 2012.  

See below -  a photo taken by me this morning at Patinapakkam, and you can again see the right side of the vessel – has it turned again during the tides or is it due to the efforts of salvors / ship crew  ?

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
5th Nov. 2012.


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