Blame the Chennai oil spill on the collided ship's pilot

Experts question pilot’s absence from vessel and the lack of preparedness, while veteran mariners blame port for the incident.

Published: 03rd February 2017 04:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd February 2017 04:13 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: It was a minor matter, but the pilot from Kamarajar Port, Ennore, disembarking the British vessel prior to the designated spot may have had a role in the accident that has resulted in thick sludge floating near Chennai coast.

Workers and volunteers manually
cleaning up the oil sludge on
Thiruvatriyur shores in the city
on Thursday | p jawahar

Port officials defended the pilot, Karunanidhi, pointing out that world over, the pilot - who guides the ship to access and get out of the ports - gets down once the captain of the ship is comfortable and confident. A senior official told Express that Karunanidhi had got down earlier and was at the signal station handing over documents when the accident happened.

However, shipping industry veterans rejected the stance, and blamed the port for the mishap.

“The pilot should have disembarked at the boarding point. The voyage data recorder of BW Maple would clearly reflect the actual activities on the bridge, the voice conversations, the radar picture, the GPS position, status of the various navigational equipment like steering motors, gyro, echo sounder and engine revolutions etc,” said Captain MA Pillai, sailing master mariner with 30 years experience on foreign-going trade vessels.

“As it was an early sailing at around 0300hrs, was the pilot and the bridge team on the BW Maple well rested, not fatigued and in compliance of the International Maritime Organisation Rest Hour Regulations,” questioned Pillai.

When contacted, S Barik, principal officer of Mercantile Marine Department, told Express that a pilot has to disembark at pilot boarding ground as per norms of the Kamarajar Port. “An investigation is going on during which we will look at all angles,” he said. This will take more than a month as officials will have to speak to a lot of people and pore through high volume of data. “We will also analyse the conversation in voice data recorder,” he added.

In the absence of a comprehensive contingency plan, the initial efforts were aimed at addressing the immediate safety risks - one of them carried 27,500 metric tonnes of LPG while another had 32,800 tonnes of motor spirit. An official at the port admitted that they were not aware of the oil leak from MT Kancheepuram for hours.

The accident and its aftermath has raised questions over the expertise and equipment to deal with such events. Sources in the State Maritime Board said that this was an opportunity to find out the quality of the equipment.


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