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Friday, June 18, 2021

Cyclone Tauktae: Aground at Palghar, barge wreckage raises oil leak fears

When Cyclone Tauktae struck earlier this month, the four-deck Gal Constructor anchored offshore near Alibaug started drifting several nautical miles in Palghar and got stranded there. All the 137 crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard.

Written by Yogesh Naik | Mumbai |
Updated: May 30, 2021 7:30:41 am
When Cyclone Tauktae struck, Gal Constructor anchored offshore near Alibaug started drifting several nautical miles in Palghar. (Photo courtesy: Kotwal of Collector, Palghar)

A “sheen” of oil reported by the Coast Guard at Valrai Rocks off Palghar where ONGC off shore accommodation barge Gal Constructor ran aground during Cyclone Tauktae has raised fears that a large amount of diesel stored on it has begun leaking into the sea.

The Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) and Director General (Shipping) have issued notices to AFCONS, the company that was operating the vessel for ONGC.

When Cyclone Tauktae struck earlier this month, the four-deck Gal Constructor anchored offshore near Alibaug started drifting several nautical miles in Palghar and got stranded there. All the 137 crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard.

While DG (Shipping) has issued a notice expressing concern for marine pollution, MMB has warned against removing the vessel as it is in the middle of the navigation channel.

“Our first priority is to remove oil from the vessel and salvers are doing it. Then we will think of removing the vessel. The vessel is deeply embedded in rocks,’’ Captain Praveen Khara of MMB said.

Amit Saini, chief executive officer of MMB, added, “The barge owners are complying with the notices and it should be removed soon.”

Coast Guard spokesman Aravindan Mitra said the barge is carrying 78 kilo litre of a “high flash” high speed diesel. Though the barge had no engine of its own, the fuel is required for the electricity generator and the like on the vessel, which was an accommodation for the workers who were all employed in off shore jobs at Mumbai High. The barge is not carrying any crude oil.

While the spokesman said no breach of oil from the barge had been reported, he added that a Coast Guard helicopter had reported a “silvery oil sheen of width 50 metres” from the site.

“AFCONS has arranged M/s Seacare, which has laid 400 m boom around the barge. Further, two fuel barges are being hired for removal of oil. M/s Shree Krishna is undertaking hull repairs to Gal Constructor and M/s Smith & Coy has been hired for removal of oil from the vessel,” he said.

Mitra also said no spill has been reported on shore as of now. “Continuous liaison is being maintained with agent of Gal Constructor. The onboard team had laid absorbent pads along the boom. The same will be recovered along with bilge oil with the help of fishing boats, which are being arranged by the fishermen’s association. The Coast Guard is closely monitoring the situation and the district administration has been alerted for immediate clean-up, if any oil reaches ashore,” he added.

An official from AFCONS said: “While it is a prime responsibility of the vessel owner to salvage the grounded vessel, Afcons pre-emptively volunteered to arrange and install oil containment boom around Gal Constructor two days ago to ensure no harm comes to the environment and the marine ecology is not impacted.”

“On account of the pre-emptive action, the oil spill is now contained within the floating boom and is being recovered. We understand that salvage operations have already commenced as a team from Smit International has boarded the vessel and started making preparations.”

Palghar District Collector Manik Gursal said the district administration is monitoring the situation.

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