Salvaging boats that sank after Vizag fishing harbour fire is a Herculean task

Hauling up the damaged boats from around 20-foot-deep water and handling the oil spill need proper equipment and expertise

November 22, 2023 07:32 pm | Updated 10:01 pm IST - VISAKHAPATNAM

Charred remains of boats floating at the jetty of Visakhapatnam Fishing Harbour where 45 fishing boats were gutted, on Wednesday.

Charred remains of boats floating at the jetty of Visakhapatnam Fishing Harbour where 45 fishing boats were gutted, on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: V. RAJU

Three days after 45 mechanised fishing boats were gutted in a massive fire accident and had sunk to the depths of the jetty at the Visakhapatnam Fishing Harbour, the authorities concerned are now focussing on salvaging the remains of the boats.

On November 19 (Sunday), a fire that emanated from one of the moored boats spread rapidly to the others anchored at the jetty. It soon turned into an inferno. Except for a few of them, all boats sank. The usual operations cannot resume unless the remains of the boats are not salvaged.

The depth of water at the jetty is around 6 metres (18 to 20 feet). A boat in normal circumstances weighs around 40 tonnes and hauling them up from the depths of water need equipment and expertise.

“It will be a combination of underwater and shore operations. Divers need to go into the water and attach hauling cables to the boats. As most of the sunken boats are in a fragile condition, the cables need to be attached at the right spot so that they do not give up during the hauling-up operation. Once the cables are attached, the boats need to be pulled up by cranes,” said Md. Sadiq, YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) corporator who runs a diving support company.

Another major operation is handling the oil spill. Each boat had at least 3 tonnes of diesel and other oils and lubricants stored. All of them were spilt during the accident, forming a layer on the water spreading up to 2 sq km.

“Fortunately, most of these oils and fuel have been burnt in the accident. We need the oil spill management team of the Visakhapatnam Port Authority (VPA) to look into it. The VPA has got the expertise and equipment, including an oil skimming vessel,” said Mr. Sadiq.

Compensation issue

The Andhra Pradesh government has announced a compensation of 80% of the total value of the boats damaged, immediately after the accident. However, it has become a contentious issue, as the compensation is likely to be paid on the depreciated value.

“Each boat damaged in the accident is about 5 to 15 years old, and there is still no clarity on the compensation issue. If it is paid on the depreciated value, what the boat owners will get is only peanuts,” said Vasupalli Janakiram of Visakhapatnam Mechanised Boats’ Association.

“A new boat costs around ₹70 lakh and the depreciated value could be around ₹30 lakh to ₹40 lakh. Getting 80% of this value will not serve the purpose,” he added.

It is learnt that the boat owners and the association members are working out a formulae based on the present market value of a boat.

“If the market value of a five-year-old boat is around ₹60 lakh let the compensation match this value. It should not be calculated on the depreciated value, which could be around ₹30 to ₹35 lakh. If that be the case then a person whose boat is around 10 years old hardly gets anything,” he said.

Parleys are on and a decision is likely to be taken shortly. Only then the fishermen and boat owners will decide when to start the salvage operation.

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