Tug boat shortage hinders crew change at Vizhinjam harbour

Harbour has just one tug boat. Authorities end up hiring one more

Published: 26th July 2021 05:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th July 2021 05:51 AM   |  A+A-

Seafarers wearing PPE kit enter the tug at Vizhinjam harbour on Saturday to check in to a ship anchored in sea as part of crew change

Seafarers wearing PPE kit enter the tug at Vizhinjam harbour on Saturday to check in to a ship anchored in sea as part of crew change | Vincent Pulickal

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Vizhinjam harbour here witnessed bustling sign-in and sign-off of seafarers on Saturday when nine ships were anchored at sea as part of crew change. It was the largest number of the arrival of ships here on a single day for crew change. However, the Kerala Maritime Board and private agencies involved had to struggle during the entire operations due to a shortage of tug vessels.

At present, Vizhinjam, which was recently declared an ‘International Crew Change and Bunkering Hub’ by the state government, has only one tug boat named ‘Dhwani’ and the authorities had to hire one more tug from the Adani Group for the entire operation on Saturday. But the agencies and board could manage to complete the crew change of only five ships on Saturday and the other four ships were found anchored even on Sunday morning owing to the delay in proceedings.

On July 15, the port department celebrated the first anniversary of the crew change operations in the presence of Ports Minister Ahmed Devarkovil. But the government took little interest in arranging more tug boats and facilities here.

Earlier, Vizhinjam had two tugs and the second tug named ‘MT Chaliyar’ was shifted to Kollam harbour later for repair works. But ‘MT Chaliyar’ is too small to accommodate all seafarers. Another vessel named ‘MT Malabar’, which was arranged for the crew change, is stuck at Kochi port. According to officials, efforts are on to bring Malabar here for the operations.

The official said the tug which is under repair at Kollam may not be brought to Vizhinjam. Sources said Malabar could be released from Kochi port only after paying a penalty of `8 lakh to Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) imposed after a marine mechanical engineer informed the director-general of shipping that the tug was used for the crew change without a licence. Following this, Kerala Maritime Board had written to MMD requesting licence for it under the Harbour Craft Rules so that the licence fee or penalty could be reduced. At present, the MMD takes care of the licence proceedings under the Merchant Shipping Act.

As per the circular of the director-general of shipping, the crew change can be carried out from 6am to 6pm and the crew of only one ship could be transported in a tug at a time. But here, the authorities had to permit the agencies till 8pm due to the delay in crew changes.

An official in charge of the crew change said they were informed about the arrival of nine ships on short notice and hence they could not arrange more tugs.  It also led them to hire the tug from Adani Group. The official also added that the business competition between the agencies that handle the crew change had also created confusion in various proceedings. However, agencies blamed the maritime board for not arranging sufficient facilities as the board was informed earlier about the arrival of nine ships. 

Efforts on to bring ‘Malabar’ to Vizhinjam: CEO
Kerala Maritime Board CEO T P Salim Kumar told TNIE that the board has been making efforts to bring tug boat MT Malabar to Vizhinjam harbour at the earliest. ”Negotiations are under way to release the boat from Kochi.  Efforts are on to bring the tug. We are in talks with the authority to ensure the release of the tug at the earliest. The tug which is currently in use for crew change can be used for sign-in and sign-off on a single trip itself.

But the agencies preferred to make sign-in and sign-off at different times. This created the delay as the tugs would be returning to harbour empty for the sign-in of the next batch of seafarers. “If the agencies themselves decide that both sign-in and sign-off could be done on a single trip, the time can be used effectively. This will also lessen the waiting time of the ships. Right now, the sea is turbulent due to rough weather. So it can only be done slowly as the seafarers enter the ship from the tug and vice-versa through ladders,” he said.


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