Saturday, October 03, 2009

Ship Near Kudankulam N-Plant Triggers Security Concerns

In an incident that triggered security concerns, a Jeddah-bound ship from Singapore, with 10 Indonesians on board, entered Indian territorial waters about 10 nautical miles from the upcoming 2000MW nuclear power plant in Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district in south Tamil Nadu on Thursday evening. The vessel's presence in the vicinity of the high-security nuclear plant created a quite a stir, though it was later found that the ship had strayed into the country's territorial waters due to bad weather. However, authorities are not taking any chances and the ship is being towed by the Coast Guard to the nearby Tuticorin port for further investigation. Patrolink, a small 35-metre vessel, was first noticed by fishermen late Thursday evening. On sighting the flickering lights from the vessel, the fishermen immediately informed the fisheries department officials who in turn alerted the local police. Marine police DSP Manirathinam went on board to make enquiries. The anxiety was further heightened as the _strange' vessel was close to the shore and the sensitive nuclear installation, raising questions about a possible security breach. The Kudankulam nuclear power project is being constructed with Russian cooperation and the first of the reactors is expected to go critical in December this year or early 2010. Tirunelveli deputy inspector general of police P Kannappan told TOI that the ship had come within a distance of 10 nautical miles, well within territorial waters. On Friday morning, a police team went on board the vessel to investigate. "We found the captain, Augustin Polo, and nine others, all bearing Indonesian passports, on board the vessel. They told us they were employees of an oil firm in Jeddah and had left Singapore on September 19 and were headed for the Saudi Arabian city when bad weather and strong winds forced them off course," Kannappan said.Superintendent of police Asra Garg confirmed the presence of the ship in the Indian waters close to the nuclear plant and said the crew members had fallen sick due to bad weather and dropped anchor off Kudankulam. "Now it is for the Indian Navy and Coast Guard to carry out further investigations," Garg said. Reacting to the reports of a possible security breach, Nuclear Power Corporation chairman SK Jain said "a multi-layered security system" was already in place and the security parameters had already been fortified in the wake of the LTTE's acquisition of aerial strike capabilities in 2007 and the Mumbai terror attacks last year. No fishing boat, trawler or any kind of vessel is permitted within 500 metres of the plant site, said KC Purohit, project director of the Kudankulam nuclear plant. The Coast Guard has four patrol ships in the area -- Ahalya Bhai and Nayak Devi for shallow water patrolling, and the more sophisticated ICGS Veera and Sagar, with radar facilities, for deep sea patrolling. But, this ship had managed to enter the Indian seas and remain unnoticed until it received an alert from the local police on Thursday night. Red-faced Coast Guard officials in the region declined to confirm the incident, but police sources said a Coast Guard vessel had reached the area late Friday evening. The plant has its own dedicated jetty which was inaugurated on January 14, 2004 and set up to bring in fuel and equipment for light water reactors from ships anchored at a distance of 1.5 km.

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