New Delhi: An abandoned tanker laden with 2,800 million tonne naphtha floating off the Goa Coast could spill its toxic content with a strong cyclone set to buffet the Arabian Sea Coastline.
Indian Coast Guard issued a fresh alert on Wednesday of a new cyclone towards Arabian Sea. The Coast Guard said, "While the Cyclonic Storm Kyarr moves away from the Indian coasts and continue to weaken, another well marked low pressure area has developed over Commorin and adjoining Indian Ocean area."
It lays cantered 200 km south east of Minicoy in Lakshadweep Islands and is to move north westwardly across Lakshadweep islands during the next 24 hours and then emerge into east central Arabian Sea. Alerts have been issued to coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, including Union Territories of Lakshadweep besides fisheries authorities.
This has made things worse for the abandoned vessel laden with the toxic chemical. Top government officer said, "If any of the content spills, it will spell disaster for the aquatic and marine life as well entire coastal zone running for miles." The main concern is that the vessel is laden with naphtha, which is highly volatile, carcinogenic and toxic with low boiling point, the officer added.
Kyarr has already done damage to the abandoned vessel -- MV Nu-Shi Nalini. The vessel ran aground on October 25 in close proximity of Dona Pula, near the house of Goa Governor, about eight cables from the shore Light House Aguada in Goa. "The said vessel has been abandoned since June 2018," said the officer.
Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard have been put on high alert. However, they cite negligence on the part of Central government authorities dealing with the vessel. MV Nu-Shi Nalini, an Indian registered abandoned vessel anchored off Goa since September 21, 2019, but it was abandoned, unattended for more than a year after seepage and explosion in the engine room.
Explosion and death
It was at about 5.30 p.m. on June 31, 2018, Indian Coast Guard Kochi received information from Cochin Port Trust regarding explosion in engine room on board MV Nu-Shi nalini at 14 nautical miles south west of Kochi.
The fire was brought under control by the vessel crew. There were a total of 22 crew, all Indians, on board.
The ship is owned by Electran Shipping Limited and the vessel managers were Arya Shipping Limited.
The last port of call was Mundra in Gujarat and the vessel was moving towards Budge in West Bengal with enroute halt at Colombo in Sri Lanka.
During investigation, authorities found that the vessel departed from Mundra port on June 8, 2018, and during passage leakage of Naphtha was observed in pump room with high volatile fumes ingress in the engine room at 12 noon on June 13, 2018. Because of this, the vessel deviated from its passage to Colombo and anchored off Kochi.
The leaked naphtha was transferred from the pump room to an empty tank, however due to seepage of Naphtha fumes in engine room, an explosion occurred at about 4.50 p.m. in the engine room.
The fire rendered the vessel without power generation and propulsion and the vessel remained off Kochi anchorage.
Post the fire incident, 17 crew members disembarked on board Cochin Port Trust Tug and four crew members, including the captain remained on board. The Cochin Port tug boats remained in close vicinity of the vessel for monitoring. One of the crew members received 80 per cent burn injuries and he later succumbed. Indian Coast Guard, Indian Navy and Coast Guard tugs were deployed for assistance.
In the meantime, the owner of the vessel appointed Resolve Salvage and Fire (India) for salvage. They embarked on the vessel on June 15 for assessment and subsequently four crew members disembarked from the vessel.
The salvours deployed one safety Tug named Tanzanite which remained in close vicinity of the vessel for any emergency. However, on July 22, 2018, salvours issued notice of termination to the owner due to disagreement in invoking the Special Compensation P&I Club Clause (SCOPIC) clause. Lastly, the salvours terminated the services from August 10, 2018, and demobilized the various equipments and tug.
Later, the owner appointed Lots Shipping Limited as new salvour on September 20, 2018 and the salvage operation started on October 10, 2018. The dangerous cargo was shifted by the salvours to other safer tanker on board and the owner planned to shift vessel to Sri Lanka for repair and safe discharge of cargo.
However, the vessel remained unmanned and posed a threat to the ecology of Kerala Coast and with salvours having terminated its services.
Threats and Legal fight
Indian Coast Guard took up the matter with Kerala state administration for disposal of vessel. A meeting was organised by state additional chief secretary, revenue head, environment head and disaster management head on November 16 to discuss the matter. It was decided that the issue will be taken with Director General Shipping for early disposal of the vessel.
In the meantime, Cochin Port Trust refused to provide berth to the vessel and the managers of the vessel thereafter files petition against the Cochin Trust Post at the Kerala High Court for not allowing the vessel to enter Kochi.
The port subsequently filed an affidavit stating that the vessel poses ecological and fire hazard to the port premises. The owner wanted to shift the vessel to Sri Lanka for repairs, however, case was filed with High court by one of the involved parties due to financial liabilities.
The Kerala High Court on April 3, 2019, directed the vessel not to enter the Kochi owing to safety issues and remain anchorage under arrest till financial security is provided.
Considering the impending danger posed by the unnamed vessel, the Central government counsel on the request the Director General Shipping approached the Kerala High Court to reconsider the directive and allow the vessel to proceed to any port where safe transfer of cargo is feasible.
"The High Court dismissed the admiralty suit and vacated the arrest order on May 29, 2019," said the officer.
Thereafter, a series of meeting took place between all the stakeholders where it was decided for safe disposal of the vessel.
From Kochi to Goa
The vessel was taken over by Allahabad bank and was shifted under tow on July 9 from Kochi anchorage to Goa to discharge 2,800 million tonne of Naphtha. The vessel entered Mormugao port on July 15, 2019.
"Owing to local issues, the vessel was again shifted along with the cargo to outer anchorage of Mormugao port, Goa on September 21, 2019," said the officer, adding that it was left unattended.
But with cyclonic storm Kyarr long the west coast of Goa, the unmanned, abandoned and anchored vessel slowly dragged from its initial position in north east direction and ran aground on October 25, 2019.
This has raised a serious threat to sea shore life. The Mormugao Port Trust and District Collector of the region have kept Pollution Response equipment standby.
The District Collector has also requested to augment contingency measures as per national Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan. But if the new cyclone hits the vessel it could be disastrous.