A dredger of the Indian Navy hit the Venduruthy-Vikrant bridge on Saturday morning, temporarily disrupting vehicular and pedestrian traffic on the 18-month-old bridge.
MV Bhagawati Prem, the dredger that hit the bridge around 11.15 a.m. was towed away with much difficulty using two tugs of Cochin Port Trust by 1.20 p.m., amidst cheers by a huge crowd which gathered near the bridge.
Initial attempts to tow it away had to be given up for fear of further damaging the bridge. Movement of vehicles was curbed for about an hour on the bridge on which thousands of people depend to commute to the city and back from West Kochi and Wellingdon Island.
Cracks are visible only on a few railings of the bridge built by the PWD, and the full extent of damage is yet to be assessed. Minister for Public Works V.K. Ebrahim Kunju told reporters at the site that the bridge shook a little even as attempts were made to tow away the dredger. “The incident proves the lethargic attitude of those entrusted with the dredging work. There was no need for the vessel to come so close to the bridge,” he said.
Vehicles were allowed on the bridge by afternoon. Superintending Engineer of PWD P.A. Hashim said only a detailed probe would reveal the extent of damage.
“The dredger hit the bridge’s pier too. We have sought the help of experts from the Structural Engineering Research Centre, Chennai, to assess the damage. This will be followed by a high-level meeting, where representatives of the Navy and Cochin Shipyard, which contributed funds to the bridge’s construction, will participate. Vehicles will be allowed on the bridge, until the technical study points to concerns about its safety.”
A press release issued by the Navy said that the dredger was employed by Cherian Varkey Construction Company Private Ltd. The firm was entrusted with the contract to extend the south jetty of the Navy by 100 metres, for which the dredger was deployed.
The Cochin Port Trust has ordered an inquiry by its Deputy Conservator into the incident, since it occurred within the notified limits of the port. In 2004 and in 2007, a dredger deployed by the port had rammed the old Venduruthy railway bridge, following which passage of trains on it was restricted.