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Mumbai ship collision: Pilots didn’t follow rulebook

The Panama-registered MSC Chitra collided with the St Kitts-registered MV Khalijia III around 9.40 am on August 7.

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai |
August 12, 2010 3:26:00 am

Saturday’s collision between two ships off the Mumbai coast was caused by a clear violation of standard operating procedure prescribed for communication between ships as well as with port traffic controllers.

Sources at the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) told The Indian Express that similar violations had taken place several times in the past as well but had luckily not resulted in any damage.

The Panama-registered MSC Chitra collided with the St Kitts-registered MV Khalijia III around 9.40 am on August 7 in clear weather. The Mumbai Port and the Jawaharlal Nehru Port have both been closed for operations since,as over 200 floating containers pose a navigational hazard for ships entering and leaving the channel. About 900 tonnes of oil that leaked out of MSC Chitra has also polluted the waters and beaches in the area.

The Director-General of Shipping subsequently said the two ships were operating on different frequencies,Chitra on VHF 13 as it departed from Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT),and Khalijia on VHF 12 as it was approaching MbPT. The Vehicle Traffic Management System (VTMS),operated from a building in the MbPT area,also operates on VHF 12.

But sources said the communication gap arising out of the two ships operating on different radio frequencies is forbidden by navigational rules governing the piloting of ships in and out of the common channel shared by the two ports,among the country’s busiest.

“JNPT pilots know,and have been reminded often,that although JNPT operates on VHF 13,they must switch over to VHF 12 while passing the common channel shared by both ports,” said a source.

Sources said other layers of safeguards put in place to navigate the channel also seem to have been violated. The pilot of MSC Chitra is believed to have disembarked even before the usual disembarkation point,already closer to the port by about three miles in the monsoon. “The JNPT pilot should not have disembarked at all,” said Capt. Arun Karkare,a former pilot with MbPT and member of the three-man Barve Committee that originally set out a navigational accord for the two ports in 1988. “This was failure to see a situation likely to develop. Not only was his vessel on VHF 13 and not communicating with VTMS,but an approaching vessel on VHF 12 was clearly visible. He should have stayed on board until the situation was defused.”

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