Indiscriminate dredging at the Visakhapatnam Port is said to be the cause of the Navy’s amphibious vessel, INS Airavat, running aground off the coast here last week. A private firm, which has taken up capital dredging in the inner and outer harbours simultaneously, is reportedly pooling excavated sand from the inner harbour at the outer harbour — this seems to have led to a navigational error resulting in the mishap.
INS Airavat suffered damage while returning to the harbour Thursday night, after which an inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the reasons for the mishap. Though it did not suffer any major damage, Navy officials are viewing it seriously as the incident points to a navigational error.
It is the ninth accident involving a Navy warship in seven months. According to sources, preliminary investigation revealed that the incident had occurred due to ongoing dredging work and the tug boats of the Naval ship failed to find sand wells (heaps of sand under the sea) formed near the channel due to the pooling of the sand dredged from the inner harbour.
Sources said the Visakhapatnam Port has taken up capital dredging in the inner habour about six months ago and in the outer harbour about five months ago. Earlier, the Dredging Corporation of India used to pool the dredged sand along the beach to contain beach erosion. However, a private firm was roped in for dredging this year and sources said the company is pooling most of the dredged sand from the inner harbour to the outer harbour from where it was planning to push it further into deep sea.
“A sand well has formed near the channel leading into the inner harbour. The Navy vessel must have hit this resulting in the damage to its propellers,” said a Port official.
The issue is said to have caused more damage to the already strained relations between the Visakhapatnam Port Trust (VPT) and the Eastern Naval Command (ENC) of the Indian Navy.
INS Airavat is one of the two Magar-class Landing Ship Tankers (LSTs), designed and built by the Hindustan Shipyard Limited in partnership with the Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers. Both the ships are stationed at the naval base in Vishakhapatnam.
INS Airavat has the capacity to carry 500 soldiers and can provide stern refuelling for other naval vessels apart from conducting amphibious assault operations.
The ship can also operate two medium-lift helicopters, which are primarily meant for ‘inserting’ a small team of Special Forces (marine commandos) and it is equipped with a fully-functioning hospital on-board and has made significant contributions in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) during natural disasters like tsunamis and cyclones.
Despite repeated attempts, the Navy spokesperson at Visakhapatnam could not be reached, but sources told Express that the ship will now undergo significant repairs to its propellers and is likely to be docked over the next few days for a refit.