Grounded ship salvaged, to remain in Chennai port

Chennai: The grounded ship Pratibha Cauvery has been successfully salvaged by the tow vessel Malavya this evening (Sunday). However she cannot continue her voyage and will remain berthed on the outer anchorage of the Chennai port following a direction by the Madras High Court.

Captain Cheran of Accord Marine Surveyors and Consultants, who assisted the Singapore based Smit Salvage team in the operation, told NDTV, "First they checked whether the vessel is good, then checked all areas around the ship and concluded that a 300 horse power tug vessel should be fine".

Though another emergency tow vessel was available the team decided to have it only as a stand by. Captain Cheran added, "Snapping of tug rope is normal and we had the rope giving way a few times".

By Sunday morning the salvage team had emptied the water in the ship's forward ballast to make the ship lighter. This Mr Cheran explained it made it easier to swing the ship any side. By afternoon the ship was partially salvaged, and it was turned almost ninety degrees towards the sea.  Later in the day, after the rear ballast too was emptied, the ship got much lighter and the tug vessel pulled her into the sea where it could float.

Pratibha Cauvery, an oil tanker ran aground on October 31, near Chennai's Besant Nagar beach as cyclone Nilam made landfall near Mahaballiburam. The same night she moved closer to the Marina beach. Six of her sailors were killed as the lifeboat they took to reach shores capsized. A family member of one of the victims has petitioned the Madras High Court seeking an interim compensation of twenty-five lakhs, and a final settlement of one crore each to the families of each of the six sailors who died. The petitioner claims the ship was not sea worthy and the ship had no food, drinking water and medicine for the crew; it was also low on fuel and without power.

An investigation by the Director General of Shipping is on to find out what led to  the ship running aground and whether the tragedy could have been averted.
The Coast Guard and the state Government's Coastal Security Group ignored the ship's distress call that afternoon. It was local fishermen who saved 16 sailors. The Coast Guard claims bad weather prevented them from extending any help that day. Their chopper went out the next morning and rescued the fifteen sailors trapped in the ship.

Coastal Security Group argues its job is only to check militancy within 10 nautical miles.

Sources in the Coast Guard told NDTV that according to their investigation, the ship's captain was at fault on several counts. They allege he defied instruction to not abandon the ship. He also,  they say, failed to send a senior officer on the lifeboat along with other sailors as mandated and did not ensure all those on lifeboat wore a life jacket. They pointed out all those who died were not wearing a life jacket.

The Chennai Port Trust too blames it on the ship's captain. Senior officers say, "All ships berthed in the port were asked to leave to safe waters on 29th October soon after the cyclone warning was received; but only Pratibha Cauvery defied it."

NDTV could not reach the captain for his response.

The larger question is, shouldn't there be a mechanism in place to monitor ships on a cyclone day? While various agencies pass the buck, the probe would hopefully plug grey areas; not a consolation though for families of the six sailors who lost their lives.