Chennai: Nature's fury and panic among the crew that the Pratibha Cauvery was likely to capsize led the captain to abandon the oil tanker as cyclone Nilam hit the Tamil Nadu coast Oct 31, an official said on Saturday, adding that the ship's papers were all valid.
"The ship has valid insurance cover from New India (New India Assurance Company) and its other certificates are also valid as per regulations," Vinash Mohan, marine manager at Pratibha Shipping Company Ltd told IANS.
"The ship's seaworthiness certificate, valid for five years, expired on Oct 1 while it was on the high sea. As per regulations, the ship has to go to a dry dock before the certificate is renewed. Efforts are on to salvage the ship," he said.
The cyclone was set to cross the coast near here Wednesday afternoon when the tanker was anchored outside the Chennai Port area. The ship ran aground as the cyclone hit the coast.
Describing the sequence of the events on the fateful Wednesday afternoon, Mohan said the ship's master started the engine at around 11 a.m. but the ship managed a speed of only one knot per hour at 60 revolutions per minute (RPM). When the engine's RPM was increased, the ship's speed was just five knots.
"The master tried to turn the ship to the left as it was going parallel to the coast. The master was asked to lower the two anchors one by one, which was done. The increasing wind speed and high tide beached the ship," he said.
"The captain called the Chennai Port asking for boats for disembarkment. The officials in turn asked the captain to use lifeboats in the ship as the weather was rough to send their boats," Mohan said.
On being informed about the ship getting beached, Mohan told the captain to remain calm and balance the ballast.
At around 1.30 p.m. the 37 crew members noticed that the ship was listing at six degrees and once the low tide sets in at around 4 p.m., the listing would increase to 14 degrees, he said.
Fearing that the vessel was likely to capsize, panic gripped them and the captain gave the order to abandon ship, not knowing the impending tragedy.
Twenty-two crew members got into a lifeboat. Hit by giant waves, the boat capsized and five went missing while 17 were rescued. One of them was brought dead to the hospital.
For quite sometime, Pratibha Shipping and Chennai Port officials lost contact with the ship.
According to Mohan, when contact with the captain was re-established, they were informed that the order for abandoning the ship was already given and a lifeboat was lowered and it got capsized and the crew was literally at sea.
When queried that insurers did not provide risk cover for vessels over 25 years and Pratibha Shipping was 31 years old, Mohan said: "That is true of single hull ships. Pratibha Cauvery is a double hull ship. It has valid insurance cover from New India."
Questioned about the charges that the ship's generator was not working for want of diesel, Mohan said Pratibha Cauvery's generators and other systems were working before it got beached pushed by strong cyclonic winds.
"The company had asked Indian Oil Corporation for the generator fuel which was declined despite (it) owing us money. We had placed orders for oil with another supplier but that got delayed due to the weather," Mohan said.
He said the ship was planning to dry dock at Larsen and Toubro's (L&T) dock near here when the tragedy struck.
"L&T is exploring the possibility of helping Pratibha Cauvery," a L&T spokesperson told IANS over the phone from Mumbai.