Thursday , 20 February 2020
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A Looming Disaster

Need for faster decision making on salvaging the ill-fated vessel

Even as the naphtha-laden MV Nu-Shi Nalini remains grounded just a few hundred metres off the Marivel beach for the third week, the authorities appear to be at sea. When it ran aground the government promised that agencies would empty its content within two days and ensure that there was no threat to ecology. After making contradictory statements, the counsel for Mormugao Port Trust appears to have spoken the truth before the Bombay High Court at Goa informing it that there was imminent danger of the ship’s bottom breaking thereby causing widespread danger to the state’s ecology. It is surprising to note that after promising to remove not only the content of the vessel but also the vessel from its perch,  Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has gone to state that the salvage operations would now be carried out by the Directorate General of Shipping and state government would just be monitoring the situation.

It is strange to note that while admitting that there was imminent danger of the ship breaking, the authorities have not shown the required zeal to prevent it. Neither have the officials concerned zeroed in on the methodology to be adopted to empty the vessel of its content nor has any salvor been identified. Given the pace of decision making it appears that there is no possibility of steps being taken in near future to salvage the vessel and rid the state of potential danger. While the MPT counsel has informed the High Court that there was possibility of naphtha, diesel and heavy oil on board the vessel leaking into sea and endangering marine life, the representative of the company that owns the ship informed the court that they have filed a bond with the MPT indemnifying the port against any claim or damages arising out of any accident involving or connected to the grounded ship, and that they would reimburse all expenses and remuneration for salvage but nothing has been said about the loss to the state that could be exponential.

As neither the state government nor the MPT had expertise to deal with extraordinary situation, it would have been appropriate if the state authorities had taken help of experts before announcing schedule of removing naphtha and other contents of the ship day in and day out. What is even more surprising is that after a fortnight there are no signs of what methodology would be used to deal with the situation. It is intriguing to note that even as the Chief Minister said that a Singapore-based company will be entrusted with the task of removing naphtha from the grounded ship, mercantile marine department (MMD), which reports to DG Shipping served notice on Petro Star FZE, an United Arab Emirates-based firm, to “remove the grounded vessel” as it poses a risk to the Indian coastline. Surprisingly, the notice has been served on a firm that has no role in bringing the ship to the state. Besides, the government has chosen to book the captain of the vessel, even when it was known that the crew had abandoned the ship.

Now that the MPT has warned that there is possibility of the vessel breaking, it is necessary that state and central authorities take decision quickly on not only removing naphtha and other chemicals from the vessel but the vessel as well. The salvage operations have to be carried out by experts and nothing should be left to chance. In the eventuality of the ship breaking, the state would have to face wide ranging consequences as besides ecology tourism too would be affected. Interestingly while indemnity bond has been signed in favour of MPT by the owners of the vessel, there is no such undertaking in favour of the state which would have to deal with wide ranging ramifications. Any impact on tourism arising out of the vessel running aground would mean loss of tourists and revenue, which would have an impact on the state economy. Given the fact that this is the third incident of vessels running aground, it is necessary to probe whether these were coincidences or by design. The bringing of ship from Kochi and its aftermath should be probed thoroughly and responsibility fixed on those involved in the sordid incident.

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