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The captain of the ill-gated Indian tanker Pratibha Cauvery and the Chennai Port Authorities blame each other for an accident which claimed 6 lives. Vessel was anchored outside the Chennai Port area in Outer Anchorage, rather close to the beach, when cyclone Nilam closed the eastern coast of India on Oct 31. Port authorities said they demanded the vessel to move either north or east to the open sea. According to Indian media, vessel heaved an anchor at around 11:00 Oct 31 when the storm already hit the coast. Tanker was proceeding along the coastline and tried to head on to open sea, but didn’t make it with the speed of only 5 knots, and had to drop both anchors to avoid grounding. Anchors didn’t hold, and tanker was pushed aground at Besant Nagar beach at around 14:20 local time.
After the grounding, master was advised by the company’s manager in charge to stay calm and try to stabilize the vessel by ballasting. Apparently, there was a panic on board, master requested from port authorities the evacuation of the 37 crew, but was rejected, he was told the weather was too rough to send rescue boats, and he should use vessel’s life boats. A life boat was lowered with 22 sailors on board, and almost immediately capsized, throwing people into the sea. 17 sailors were rescued, it is understood that some of them managed to swim to the shore, and some were rescued by fishing boats. It’s not clear what has become of other 15 crew, were they all evacuated later, or some of them are still on board keeping duty. Anyway, the vessel is still on beach, not capsized or broken, so the best and safest decision back then should be to stay on board and outwait the storm. 6 crew died – 5 in a life boat accident, and 1 on board of the tanker under unclear circumstances.
Master is blaming the authorities for failing to rescue the crew, authorities are blaming master for failing to take the vessel to sea off the dangerous coast, when there was time, as he was warned about the coming storm well in advance.
Whatever the faults and flaws of Chennai port authority are, the main person to be blamed for the tragedy seems to be the master of the vessel. He failed to take vessel to the sea when there was still time, and he failed his main and utmost master’s responsibility for the crew’s lives. He wasn’t able to prevent panic and resulting attempt of 22 crew to abandon the vessel in a life boat. In requiring the evacuation, he didn’t estimate and compare the risks of either staying aboard, or trying to abandon the vessel. Further development demonstrated that to stay on board was the only safe choice. Now master is blaming authorities and as it seems, doesn’t feel or recognize, at least partially, his guilt and failure. A sorry sight.
Chemical tanker Pratibha Cauvery IMO 7920754, dwt 29810, built 1981, flag India, owner PRATIBHA SHIPPING CO. LTD. Photos of the beached Prathibha Cauvery from local media.
The salvage operation is likely to start November 7. A six-member team from Philippines and Netherlands representing SMIT Salvage investigated the seaworthiness of the vessel. On Nov 1, the Pratibha Shipping Company had signed the Lloyds Open Form with SMIT. Chennai Port Trust and Ennore Port with its’ tugs may also take part in salvage.