KOLKATA: After a valiant firefighting effort lasting for over eight hours, the 22-member Indian crew on board the MV SSL Kolkata finally abandoned ship around 8.30 am on Thursday. Eleven of them have already been rescued by the Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) Rajkiran that sailed from Haldialate on Wednesday after receiving an SOS from the stricken vessel.
“The 147.85-metre-long ship had sailed from Krishnapatnam for Kolkata with 464 containers on board. Shortly after midnight there seems to have been an explosion in one of the containers. The ship was then near the Sandheads – an anchorage for the Kolkata and Haldia ports – in the Bay of Bengal. The ship’s company made immediate efforts to control the situation but due to high winds, the fire quickly spread to nearly 60 containers. As the ship started losing stability, the captain decided to manoevre the vessel to a shallower part of the Sandheads. Its location was about 55 nautical miles off the Sandheads when Coast Guard Dorniers and the ICGS Rajkiran made contact around 8.30 am on Thursday,” a senior Coast Guard official said.
By then, the captain had ordered the crew to abandon ship as nearly 70% of the ship was on fire. Despite bad weather and rough sea, 11 of the crew were picked up by the Coast Guard vessel. More Coast Guard ships with external firefighting systems are already on their way from Visakhapatnam to try and douse the major fire. Since the vessel is manoeuvring in shallow area off sandheads, the grounding and consequent oil spill from its fuel (211 MT) cannot be ruled out. The ships from Visakhapatnam and Chennai are embarking pollution equipment for controlling possible oil spill threat, K R Nautiyal, ADG and Commander, Coast Guard, Eastern Seaboard, confirmed.
At the Coast Guard’s Regional Headquarters (North East) in Kolkata, IG and commander K S Sheoran is monitoring the rescue operations and co-ordinating with the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), Haldia Dock Complex, Dhamra Port and owner/agent of the vessel for firefighting and search and rescue operations.
“We are also monitoring the situation closely. One of our tugs has already been despatched from Haldia to the spot of occurrence. We are also doing our best to prevent any oil spillage,” KoPT chairman Vinit Kumar said.