Fire accident at fishing harbour: Visakhapatnam lucky to escape major disaster

Had the fire, which reduced 45 fishing boats to ashes, spread to the fuel and pumping stations of oil majors nearby, the impact could have been severe and felt up to a few square kilometres, says police officer

Published - November 21, 2023 07:51 pm IST - VISAKHAPATNAM

The charred remains of boats floating near the jetty at the fishing harbour in Visakhapatnam on Tuesday.

The charred remains of boats floating near the jetty at the fishing harbour in Visakhapatnam on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: V. RAJU

A major disaster was averted in the Port City when 45 fishing boats were gutted at the fishing harbour late in the night on November 19 (Sunday).

The fire could be seen from a few nautical miles in the sea, and from the Simhachalam area in the city, which was located about 25-km from the fishing harbour.

The mechanised boats, which were moored alongside the jetty, had caught fire in quick succession, and the diesel tanks and LPG cylinders in each of these boats exploded within minutes due to excessive heat.

Luckily, the fire did not spread to the petrol and diesel station belonging to one of the oil majors and the pipelines of a fuel storage and pumping station of another oil major, which were located adjacent to the accident site.

“While dousing the fire was one of our immediate tasks, the imminent danger it posed made the task all the more challenging. Had the fire, or the excessive heat it generated, reached the fuel stations or the pipelines, the city would have witnessed a major disaster, as its impact could have been felt up to a few square kilometres,” said DCP Anand Reddy.

The accident had taken place at around 11.30 p.m. on November 19, and Mr. Reddy had moved in with his team in a few minutes.

“My experience in the Fire Services Department in the initial days helped me. I kept at least one fire tender active to cool the fuel station and the pipelines,” Mr. Reddy said.

It had taken about four hours to douse the inferno, and 11 fire engines were despatched to the spot.

“It was a well-coordinated effort, as multiple agencies such as the Civil Police, Marine Police, Eastern Naval Command, Coast Guard, and even the PSUs such as the VSP and HPCL were involved,” said Commissioner of Police A. Ravi Shankar.

Fire tenders carrying foam from the HPCL and VSP were requisitioned to tackle the inferno from the jetty side, while the ENC and the Coast Guard personnel sprayed water and foam from the seaside using floating platforms.

The police suspect it to be the handiwork of a few miscreants who were having a party in one of the boats. This brings to the fore the lacunae in the overall security system.

The fishing harbour comes under the Visakhapatnam Port Authority (VPA), but the security is not under the Central Intelligence Security Force (CISF).

Technically, the area comes under the One-Town Police station jurisdiction, but despite being a sensitive zone, there is no CISF or police picket. There is a Marine Police Station, but its role is basically limited to checking infiltration. There are no CCTV cameras, and a few that exist do not function.

“It is a known fact that the harbour area is frequented by anti-social elements, and it lies in a sensitive zone. The mechanised boats sail for over 100 to 150 nautical miles and return with the a catch one or two days later. It is difficult to keep a tab on what is going out and what is coming in,” says a senior officer, indicating that the the Marine Police is seriously short of staff, equipment and boats.

Not one of the 18 patrolling boats, both six-tonne and 12-tonne ones, is operational, They are expected to patrol the 974-km coastline of Andhra Pradesh.

“Despite several suggestions and requests made by various associations of the mechanised boat operators to have at least one fire engine stationed at the harbour, no steps have been taken to that effect,” says Vasupalli Janakiram of the Mechanised Fishing Boats’ Association.

According to the officials concerned, the new modernised fishing harbour that is coming up at the same spot with the funding of the Union Government at a cost of ₹150 crore will have all facilities, including CCTV network and fire-fighting system.

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