Suspicion over the involvement of m.v. Prabhu Daya in the mid-sea accident off the Kerala coast that killed three fishermen on March 1 deepened on Tuesday, with a five-member team from the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) claiming to have found “fresh scratch marks” on the ship's hull.

As the Chennai Port Trust failed to permit the vessel to berth at Bharti Dock, even 12 hours after its arrival, a team along with representatives of the Coast Guard and the Navy went to the outer anchorage, about 2.4 nautical miles from the shore, and carried out inspection from 12.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.

Deep-sea divers

The Kerala police are also conducting a parallel investigation. Initially, the MMD team members (four from Chennai and one from Kerala) went around the vessel to inspect the hull. They also inspected the electronic chart. Deep sea divers would be deployed on Wednesday.

Talking to The Hindu, an MMD official said: “Preliminary investigation revealed that the ship bore tell-tale signs of fresh scratch marks on the front side. Besides, the electronic chart showed that there was some sudden deviation after the mishap. The marks are visible above the water level. This information would have to be corroborated by data gathered from other electronic devices.”

Owned by Tolani Shipping (Singapore) Pvt. Ltd., the vessel flying the Singapore flag was on its way to China carrying iron ore from Panaji. As there was a collision between a fishing boat and a vessel near Kochi, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre sought some details from eight vessels that were near the accident spot.

However, after narrowing down the probe to a few vessels, the Directorate General of Shipping asked ‘Prabhu Daya' to report to the nearest harbour.

The vessel reached Chennai Port around 11 p.m. on Monday. Even before its arrival, the MMD sought the permission of Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) officials to berth Prabhu Daya at one of the docks to carry out underwater survey, take photographs and to scan the ship for any visible scratch marks.

Explaining their stance for not providing berthing facility to Prabhu Daya on arrival, ChPT officials said they had suspended berthing of iron ore vessel at Bharti Dock since October as the Madras High Court had banned them from handling dusty cargo. Further, legal proceedings would hurt the Port's productivity and interest.

ChPT chairman Atulya Misra, said: “We have no issues with the berthing of the vessel. The owners can berth it after paying the berthing charges. However, the MMD team is finding it convenient to carry out the inspection on the high seas.”

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