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May 25, 2018
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A shaken Cochin shipyard to focus more on safetyThe yard was on a high, riding a wave of success to put in place its ambitious growth plans

It was in 1994 that two workers lost their lives in a freak fire outbreak at the Cochin Shipyard. It was the last major industrial accident reported from the yard until a flash of fire, ostensibly caused by leakage of oxygen or acetylene used for steel cutting/welding, doused the lives of five workers on board an oil rig under repair on Tuesday.

“The only other fire-related incident happened in 2006 when during welding at the hull shop, a splinter caused a fatality,” recalled an official. The yard made major strides during this period, consistently making profits and getting prestigious orders like that of the indigenous aircraft carrier .

“Safety has always remained the buzzword and stringent safety standards and drills have been in place. We give mandatory safety drills to all our workmen, directly contracted workers and those contracted through external agencies. There was a fireman on board Sagar Bhushan when the blast occurred. Moments earlier, there was a call to the safety office reporting suspected leakage of gas at the air-condition plant in the nearby compartment. But there was no time and the first to come out after the blast had splinter injuries,” Madhu S. Nair, chairman and managing director of the shipyard, said.

Procedures demand that a permit is obtained from the yard’s safety office for hot works on the vessel besides another permit for working in enclosed space. In the case of Sagar Bhushan, Mr. Nair said both had been obtained on Tuesday as well. He also ruled out the sabotage angle. “I have no clear answer to why it happened, but it was very bad,” he said.

The biggest accident on its campus that has won accolades for high safety standards has shaken the confidence of officials and workers. “Our priority was to be with the families of those who lost their lives in the incident,” Mr. Nair added. Officials, however, maintain that while there is no clarity on when work on Sagar Bhushan whose bulkheads suffered some damage in the blast will be resumed, the incident will cast a shadow on the other works going on in the yard.

“After the success of the IPO, the yard was on a high, riding a wave of success to put in place its ambitious growth plans. Projects such as a new, larger drydock, outstation repair facilities and an international ship repair facility in Kochi itself were being fast-tracked. But the accident has now put the focus on an immediate safety and fire safety audit. First of all, we will have to zero in on what caused Tuesday’s accident. It’s a tough call, but we should bring back the culture of safety,” a member of the yard’s enquiry committee