Timely action by the Coast Guard has averted a major environmental disaster as a result of possible oil spill from a damaged merchant vessel off the coast of Kochi.
Coast Guard's Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel (APOV) Samar on Saturday morning fixed a crack through which seawater was flooding the tanks of the rusty Panama-flagged cargo carrier Andrian-III, which was anchored eight nautical miles off Kochi while on voyage from Indonesia to Iran with a cargo of 110 kilo litres of oil. The force has now asked the Cochin Port Trust and the Mercantile Marine Department to carry out ‘port state control' inspection of the vessel to rule out any possibility of it sinking within the port limits as also to see if it can be safely brought to the harbour here for repairs.
B.K. Loshali, Deputy Inspector-General of Coast Guard District Headquarters No.4, said the Cochin Port Control on Friday evening informed the Coast Guard of a 50 metre-long vessel at anchorage 11 nautical miles off Kochi as its Captain — Iranian national Mohammed Kalabi Zadeh — and a seven-member Indonesian crew had been without food and water for four days.
“We immediately launched an interceptor boat, C-134, for investigation but turbulent seas forced it to return. Our AOPV Samar, which was on patrol in Lakshadweep, about 120 nautical miles away, was also diverted to render assistance to the vessel in distress. By then the cargo ship had moved closer to the Kochi fairway,” Mr. Loshali said.
According to T.K.S. Chandran, DIG and Commanding Officer of Samar, “ingress of seawater up to two feet was observed in Andrian-III's five tanks due to an internal crack on its bulkhead separating the forepeak tank from the ballast tanks. Our team led by Samar's Engineer Officer pumped out water from the tanks and temporarily plugged the leak.”
Mr. Chandran also said that the merchant vessel, built in 1974, was rusty and in “very bad shape.” “It only has 1,500 litres of fuel left to perform the remaining 1,500 nautical miles to reach its destination, the port of Khorramshahr in Iran. It was baffling that it had left Jakarta for a 3,320 nautical mile-long voyage without adequate fuel or replenishment. We also found that its on-board satellite phone was not working because of payment overdue,” he said.
The Coast Guard on Saturday contacted the ship's owner, Iranian national Mohsin Adib Zadeh, and asked him to nominate a shipping agent for the vessel in Kochi. The surveyors of the Mercantile Marine Department would inspect the ship to see if it is seaworthy or if it would be safe to bring it to the harbour for repairs, Mr. Loshali said. The last option would be to ask the owner to arrange for it to be towed away, he added.
The force has also kept one of its ships standby to meet any eventuality.