Drift of burning merchant vessel in Bay of Bengal arrested (Lead, changing dateline)

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Kolkata, June 16 (IANS) In a daring and complex operation, a Seaking 42 C helicopter from the Eastern Naval Command on Saturday winched down a Marine Commando (Marcos) officer on the accident-struck merchant vessel SSL Kolkata which had been on fire and drifting since the last two days in the Bay of Bengal, a defence official said.

The ship had to be abandoned by the 22 crew members on June 14 off the Sagar Island at the mouth of the Ganges Delta.

The officer ascertained the conditions in the forward part of the ship and later called in the helicopter to lower onboard three crew members of the vessel, said a Defence Ministry spokesperson said.

The team managed to drop the starboard anchor from the ship to prevent her from drifting any further and then team prepared the seamanship gear for the ship to be towed, if required.

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The live nature of the threat was evident from the explosion onboard in the forenoon which restarted the fire.

The helicopter skilfully recovered all four members of the team returned to its base.

Naval Officer in Charge, West Bengal, Commodore Suprobho K De said the Eastern Naval Command chief had given directions to stop the drift of the burning ship towards the Sunderbans delta at all costs.

Besides, the drifting ship posed a serious ecological threat because of the high temperatures onboard, should the ship capsize on the sandbanks causing pollution from the oil on board, the spokesperson said.

In keeping with the directions, the Seaking 42C helicopter and a Dornier aircraft were despatched from the command headquarters from Visakhapatnam with a core team comprising divers, the Marcos officer, shipwrights and seamanship specialists to the stage through the IAF airbase at Kalaikunda.

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Simultaneously, the NOIC liaised with the officials of the Directorate General Shipping, Indian Coast Guard, Kolkata Port Ttrust, the ship owners, agents and salvage specialists at Kolkata and kept them informed of the plans.

INS Kadmat, which was exercising in the Bay of Bengal on Friday, was directed to proceed at best speed to augment on-site support, wherein the Indian Coast guard ships were also standing by.

Kadmat arrived at the site at first light on Saturday.

The drift of the ship has been successfully arrested and now the owners and other stake holders can carry out necessary salvage operation.



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