Government orders MSC Chitra to pay damages

Even as efforts were on to resume navigation in Mumbai harbour by Saturday, the Centre has ordered that MSC Chitra pay damages for its collision with the MV Khalijia III last week.

Ministry of Shipping secretary K. Mohandas told The Hindu that the Panamanian owner and the insurers would have to bear the costs. What ever the terms of the insurance of the vessel, the government would seek third party damages.

The Ministry of Shipping has appointed the Mumbai Port Trust as the nodal agency to work out the third party insurance claims. The various kinds of damage suffered, including environment costs, were being assessed.

The owner of MSC Chitra has engaged a Singapore-based salvage agency and it would be his responsibility to clean up the thick film of oil that had spread across the surface of the Arabian Sea in the vicinity of the collision.

Mr. Mohandas said the government was monitoring the situation to ensure that the owner carried out all the necessary measures.

Much like the BP having to bear the cost of the Mexico Gulf incident, the fact that the government directed the ship owner to bear damages was a clear indication that the vessel was being held responsible for the collision.

About one million tonnes of oil had spilled in the Mexico Gulf, whereas in comparison the oil slick was around 500 to 800 tonnes at the Mumbai harbour.

To a question, Mr. Mohandas said that in case the Director-General of Shipping found the m.v.Khalijia III was also responsible for the collision then it would also have to bear the cost as well.

Admitting that Khalijia had a problem last year, Mr. Mohandas said that it had drifted and it was being investigated how this vessel had been allowed to enter the harbour.

As regards the Chitra which was 30 years old, he clarified that it had been allowed to enter the port based on the valid inspection certification it possessed. The captains of both these ships, incidentally, are Indians.

Both are single hull ships which the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has banned. The secretary said such ships had been permitted to enter Indian ports till the end of 2010 and from 2011 they would stand banned. No ship with single hull would be registered in India. The existing Indian ships have been given a grace time to operate till 2015.

The key concern of the Ministry is to clear the thick oil sheet and resume the use of the channel. The rough weather is breaking up the oil slick, limiting the damage to marine life and environment in general. It will, however, take some time to neutralise the impact of the slick.

Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar held a meeting of the committee of secretaries and reviewed the situation and the assessment was that it would take at least three more days to clear the containers which had fallen off the listed vessel.

Mr. Mohandas said the channel would be made navigable by Saturday. Some ships have been diverted and oil tankers carrying crude for refineries have been asked to move to Cochin or Mangalore ports. Other cargo ships have been told to choose ports convenient for them.

Because of its huge tilt, about 400 out of the 512 containers placed on the deck had fallen off. There was no way to prevent these from slipping into the sea and the only solution was picking them out of the water. Another 707 containers are placed in the ship's hold.

Authorities were busy assessing whether they could ballast the ship, which was resting on its port (left) side, and put it on the star board (right) side so as to easily draw the 2000 tonnes of fuel out.

Mr. Mohandas said there was no need to panic on account of what was being termed as hazardous cargo. There are 31 containers in this category of which 25 were carrying solid sodium hydrochloride, which the secretary pointed out were not hazardous in sea water.

The other six contained pesticides but these have been packed in sealed cylinders before being put in the containers and hence, the secretary ruled out any immediate danger. It was not known whether they had fallen off or had been placed in the ship's hold.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in identical statements in both the Houses of Parliament said that the entire salvage was expected to take about 45 days and hoped that the channel would be made navigable by August 15.

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Printable version | Oct 13, 2021 10:23:04 AM |

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