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Sunday, October 1, 2017

collision at Kamarajar Port, Chennai ~ BW Maple being allowed to sail out !!

It was not to be so simple !  ~ for at  3:30 am on January 28, BW Maple, a gas carrier carrying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from RasLaffan in Qatar, eased past the breakwaters of the Kamarajar Port, picking up speed as it headed out into the open waters of the Bay of Bengal.The sea was calm, the wind minimal, and the temperature was an easy 24 degrees Celsius. The Maple, manned by an Indian captain with a mixed Indian and Filipino crew, was headed further up the coast to Vishakhapatnam.  There was another tanker -  MT Dawn Kancheepuram an inward bound ship – and both  collided about 12 fathom into the sea.  Some were to state  that collision happened about two nautical miles from the shore owing to “miscommunication” or “misjudgment.”

BW Maple, had berthed at Kamarajar, a busy east-coast port near Chennai that handles vessels loaded with the primary elements that power India’s economy: gas, oil, iron-ore, coal.  The other vessel MT Dawn Kanchipuram, laden with 32,813 tonnes of petroleum lubricant, had slowed down as it approached Kamarajar’s harbour “channel” — the deep passage carved into the sea-bed to allow ships to enter port without running aground.  A few minutes prior,  the two massive ships  suddenly realised they were headed for a collision. Not much perhaps is recorded or rather such records may not be out - both vessels took desperate, but un-coordinated, evasive action, sliding inexorably closer even as they tried to get out of each other’s way.  There was collision and collateral damage.  The authorities later were to claim  thatonly one tonne oil had spilt, then said 20 tonnes after the Coast Guard issued a separate statement. The final quantity of spilt oil, officials privately admit, could have been  100 tonnes.

While the Port could not come clean on the extent of oil spill, there was some more confusion on who handle oil spill of this size !meantime, damage was done.  Not everything could be kept hidden as the oil eventually was to hit the sea – when it does,  its surface is quickly dispersed by the wind, while sea currents spread the lower layers in contact with the water. This twin action creates a large, ever-expanding film of oil called a “slick”.Along the shore, the oil mixes with sand and debris to form a thick viscous sludge that gradually oxidizes into a toxic brown mass that experts like to call “chocolate mousse”. This pollution is a great hazard to marine life and to those shore creatures besides damages to the environment.   The longer the oil stays in the water, the more it spreads, and the harder it becomes to clean.

It was imperative that Kanchipuramhad to be brought to port as soon as possible; raising fears that if the ship were to sink in the harbour, it could block off the entire port.Bunker oil, or fuel oil, of the sort spilt by the Kanchipuram, is a thick viscous mix of highly toxic polyaromatic makes it hard to pump out or skim from the sea surface. In Chennai, municipal authorities used pumps meant for floodwaters to suck up the oil.  Could it not been better handled with specialised equipment is the Q ?   ~ than trying with  municipal pumps,  poorly equipped workers armed with little more than plastic buckets.

All the past is behind and perhaps not much was learnt from that disaster – now comes the news that  Directorate General of Shipping and Mercantile Marine Department (MMD), Chennai, has reportedly issued no-objection certificate to the British vessel, BW Maple, one of the two ships that collided off the Ennore coast, to sail away though the investigation into the incident is still underway. According to the documents accessed by the Express, insurers of BW Maple have offered to submit bank guarantee to allow the ship to sail away and carry out its usual businesses.

Indian Express Chennai edition of date reports that on September 14, Captain Anish Joseph, Nautical Surveyor-cum-DDG (Technical) of DG Shipping wrote to the Principal Officer of MMD, Chennai, expressing the Directorate’s no objection to the sailing of BW Maple from the Kamarajar Port. A day after, that is, on September 15, RavikumarMoka, Ship Surveyor-cum-DDG (Technical) of MMD, Chennai, also cleared the deck for Maple, and wrote to Kamarajar Port that the department has no objection. Copies of the NOCs were sent to the chief secretary, Director of Fisheries, Customs and other departmental heads concerned.

So a collision of vessel carrying highly inflammable LPG, ramming on another tanker loaded with 26,806 tonnes of motor spirit and 6,008 tonnes of high-speed diesel - a well-documented environmental disaster, whose effects were felt up to 100 km from the collision site – vessel is being allowed to move away with the investigation incomplete. What will happen if the investigation concludes that it was BW Maple that was fault causing collision and oil spill.Meanwhile, Minjur police told Express that ideally the vessel should not be allowed to sail away until the investigations are over. “We got a request from the insurers of the BW Maple for no objection certificate and the office of Superintendent of Police is examining the request,” the official said. The official also said that the police investigation report would be filed in another 10 days.

“We have the complete recording of Simplified Voyage Data Recorder (S-VDR), a critical evidence to confirm the voice communication, besides an array of related data to get to the root cause of the incident. Shortly, we will decide on who all should be included as accused,” he said. To a query, he said since there was no life loss, the charges framed are all bailable.  The newspaper further reports that the two masters of the ships have been signed off with condition that they will be available during the course of investigations. Currently, Maple is anchored in the sea near the port and Dawn is anchored at Marine Liquid Terminal Jetty of Ennore tank terminal.

Though the initial estimates of DG Shipping on quantum of oil leak was pegged at 196 tonnes, the latest report submitted by the Union Environment Ministry before the southern bench of the tribunal on Wednesday claims that only 75 tonnes had been leaked. “The quantity of spilled oil could not be assessed. As per the statement of the captain and marine engineer of the ship, only furnace oil was leaked and that too about 75 tonnes. The same is being assessed by DG Shipping,” the report says. The ministry also referred to the incident as minor, but acknowledged the fact that the environment damage was severe in magnitude, which cannot be assessed at this juncture.

BW Group is a global maritime group involved in shipping, floating gas infrastructure and deepwater oil & gas production. The company has a fleet of over 165 vessels. The group was founded in Hong Kong in 1955 as World-Wide Shipping. In 2003, the company acquired Bergesend.y. ASA, Norway's largest shipping company. 

Strange things happen at sea and sometimes people add to confusion !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
21st Sept. 2017.

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