Efforts to tow cyclone-hit 'Pratibha Cauvery' fail

The Chennai Port Trust on Saturday failed to tow oil tanker ‘Pratibha Cauvery (PC)’ grounded by cyclone Nilam on October 31 near Marina beach to deeper waters.

“This is a very arduous task going on, but the salvagers are now able to see a positive sign,” Union Shipping Minister G K Vasan, after a close encounter with PC, told reporters on board the ‘Ocean Sparkle’, even as hundreds of onlookers swarmed the beaches close to Chennai to have a glimpse of the exercise.

In fact, Vasan, who took a small speed boat from Chennai Port, with the media following him in the larger tug, found the weather “too rough” that he barely managed to hop on to ‘Ocean Sparkle’ along with other officials after taking a look at the operations close to the oil tanker.

 Two emergency tow vessels – ‘Malavya-I’ from Kakinada and ‘MCI Ratna’ from Mumbai —  were summoned for the salvage operations directed by a Singapore-based company, Vasan said. However, four attempts in the last two days by the first vessel proved futile.

Yet, in the third round the stranded vessel moved ’10 degrees, “giving us all some hope,” said Vasan and the Chennai Port Trust Chairman Atul Mishra. The fifth round of tugging operations was to commence late in the evening. ‘Ratna’ will also be roped in, Vasan said, adding, in the next two to three days, “we hope to salvage Pratibha Cauvery by pulling her with tugs”.

The oil tanker, carrying 350 kilo litres of furnace oil, is owned by Mumbai-based Pratibha Shipping Company, but validity papers on its ‘sea worthiness’ had expired on October 1 itself, raising concerns why the ship was allowed to make voyages after that date.

The 30,000 tonnes DWT ‘PC’ was also carrying some 9000 tonnes of ‘ballast water’ to keep it stable when the mishap occurred. Another ship of the company, ‘Prathiba Varna’ is also now drifting near Chennai port for financial reasons, even as the Madras High Court ordered that ‘PC’ should move out of Chennai territorial waters only after depositing Rs 6 crores in the court, on a petition by the kin of one of the six crew members killed. Taking a wide range of questions on the rough seas, Vasan said the immediate task was to pump out all the ‘ballast water’ to lighten the vessel.

The motor pumps taking out the water have been on for 18 hours now and they will be pumping for another six hours.

However, with the ‘furnace oil’ on board the grounded ship firmly sealed, there was no threat of leakage or damage to environment, the minister added.

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