Abandoned oil tanker becomes Chennai’s newest tourist attraction
CHENNAI, India - Stranded by Nilam, the cyclone that rattled the city, the oil tanker which ran aground has turned out to be a tourist attraction with thousands thronging the Elliots beach to have a g
CHENNAI, India – Stranded by Nilam, the cyclone that rattled the city, the oil tanker which ran aground has turned out to be a tourist attraction with thousands thronging the Elliots beach to have a glimpse of the abandoned ship. This is the second time that a marine vessel has stuck the coast in the last quarter century. Eateries and fast-food joints have opened shops to cater to the visiting crowd.
But controversies surround the development resulting in the crew forsaking it on October 31 and the death of five persons on board who tried to escape by jumping into the rough sea hoping to swim the 200 meters.
A probe has been launched by the Director General of Shipping into the incident and the report would be available in a month.
“The Voyage Data Recorder, equivalent to the black box of an aircraft, and other documents and log records have been recovered. This would be of great help to the investigation,” Capt Sinha of the Chennai Port Trust (CPT) said.
Even as questions are being raised over the ship’s sea worthiness, efforts are being made to tow it into the deep sea. With the powerful tug to tow it having arrived from Kakinada, CPT officials are hopeful of commencing the salvage operation on Tuesday morning.
Quite interestingly, the tanker, owned by the Mumbai-based Pratibha Shipping Company, was ill-maintained and was on a single voyage permit to deliver oil from Haldia. After unloading the cargo on September 25, it was kept at the outer anchorage as the licence for trade operations got expired.
With no supplies from the owner, conditions on board turned worse and the crew was waiting in vain for directions. Not only the 37-member crew ran out of food and water, generators were gradually shut down. “There was no drinking water and we collected rain water from the deck for drinking,” recalled a sailor, recuperating at the hospital.
Even as the storm was nearing the coast, Captain Carl Fernandes could not sail the vessel into deep sea as he was running short of fuel. The local agent, sulking over non-payment of dues, was not forthcoming with any assistance and had stopped the supplies. When the storm Nilam gained momentum, the ship got drifted. But citing inclement weather, the Coast Guard too remained a mute spectator and the tanker finally ran aground at the Elliots beach.
According to crew members, the captain decided to abandon the ship and asked the panic-stricken crew to board the two life boats. When both the boats capsized, it was the local fishermen who saved six of them while 10 others with life-jackets reached the beach with great difficulty. The remaining six were washed away. But the crew was asked by the Coast Guard to stay on board as that was the best option in such a situation. Even the owner of the ship, Sunil Pawar, said the same thing. “Despite by request to the captain and the crew to remain on board, they had panicked and took the decision,” Pawar said.
Only the next day the Coast Guard air-lifted the remaining crew from the ship. The stranded vessel has very little diesel and 357 tonnes of furnace oil.
The question that still need an answer are whether the captain was justified in abandoning the vessel and why did no help reached them in time. If the fishermen could save precious lives why the Coast Guard turned the other way is also being debated. Shipping Minister G K Vasan has assured a ‘thorough investigation’ and it is only hoped that it would unravel the knots.