There appears to be no meeting ground between Indian officials and representatives of the insurer of the merchant vessel “Asian Forest” which sank off Mangalore coast in July, as far as removal of the wreck from the seabed is concerned.While officials maintain that the Hong Kong-based owner of the ship, Shining Ocean Ltd., has been told to remove the wreck, a representative of the company’s insurer, however, maintains that there is no such instruction.
The vessel, with the Chinese flag, was heading towards Zhangjiagang in China with 13,600 tonnes of iron ore and a stock of over 4,09,000 litres of fuel four months ago. It sank on July 18.
The cargo is believed to have become wet beyond the allowable limit. All the 18 crew members were rescued. It was insured by Japan Protection and Indemnity Club.
P.M. John, Joint Director General (Technical) of the Directorate General of Shipping, who heads the Mercantile Marine Department, Kochi, told The Hindu on Saturday that he had issued an official letter to the owner the very day it sank seeking early removal of the wreckage.
He said the sunken vessel was affecting the navigation of ships and also fishing. Another official said, “We do not know what all dangerous material it has been made of. Even the paint used for the ship will pose a hazard.”
Japan Protection and Indemnity Club’s representative Ewan Forthouse, who was here to liaison with Indian officials, however, said that there was no instruction to remove the wreckage from the Director-General (Shipping).
The club had given a letter of intent to Dutch Company SMIT to appoint it for salvage operations. Salvage operation was confined to removal of the fuel and sealing of the vessel. Salvage vessel “SMIT-Beliout” was expected to set sail from Singapore soon, he said and added that London Offshore Consultants (LOC) had been appointed as consultants to supervise the operation.
Mr. Forthouse said he was applying for all the local, national and international permits for starting the operations.
An MMD official said that the club had offered to fulfil its legal obligations but had not committed itself to removing the wreck. Although the Merchant Shipping (Wrecks & Salvage) Amendment Rules, 1975, lacked clarity on the responsibility of the owner to remove the wreck, the owner could be asked to remove it under a combination of rules, such as environmental laws.
“The simple logic should work in the end: you cannot dump your waste in my backyard,” the sources said.
Meanwhile, the police have begun their investigations into the complaint filed by Mr. John.
In the complaint, the Master, First Officer and the sunken vessel have been accused of failing to discharge their responsibility of minimising oil pollution under sections 356 J of the Indian Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, in spite of the Directorate General of Shipping serving them notices and reminders. The accused mentioned in the FIR are Master of the ship Capt. Yin Sheng Yan, its Chief Officer Yang Gao Peng, who are residing in a hotel here, and the Hong Kong-based company, which owns the vessel.