Tuesday, September 15, 2009
A major disaster was averted off the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) on Monday when a naphtha-laden tanker narrowly missed running aground in shallow waters at Lower Auckland. The river pilot on board took evasive action as soon he realised that the ship's bottom was nearing the riverbed. Had the ship been stranded in the channel, port operations at HDC would have come to a stop. The sinking of the ship would have resulted in extensive ecological damage. The incident came as a shock to pilots responsible for guiding ships in and out of the port. Some said that the port management may not be giving them true statistics regarding draught of the navigation channel. "The MT High Efficiency was waiting at the Sandheads since September 7 with 18,986 tonnes of naphtha. It was to berth at HDC's Oil Jetty 3 on Monday and required a draught of 7.60 metres. When the pilot was negotiating the shallow waters at Lower Auckland, the ship lost speed. The pilot realised that the bottom of the ship had come very close to the riverbed. He immediately steered the tanker towards deeper waters and reported the matter. The ship could have run aground, blocking the channel completely," a senior officer said.According to Kolkata Port Trust sources, the pilots had recently written to the chairman, seeking a clarification on the draught positions at Jellingham and Auckland. In 2008, when HDC was going through a rough patch due to poor draught, pilots had come to the port's rescue by reducing the under keel clearance (UKC) the distance between the riverbed and the lowest part of the vessel from 1.25 metres to 0.9 metres. For smaller vessels, they agreed to a UKC of 0.7 metres. Of late, the port management has maintained that they have maintained a depth of 4.3 metres at Lower Auckland. But pilots are not too sure. "We were taking a big risk when we agreed to reduce the UKC. It takes nerves of steel to guide large vessels through such shallow waters. We can pull off the job if the management gives us the true picture. If the management does not give us true figures, pilots will make mistakes. All responsibility for any mishap will then pass on to the pilot. If we do not get actual statistics, we shall revert to the original UKC," a pilot said.