The Indian Navy says it will salvage the Nilgiri class frigate INS Vindhyagiri off the bottom of Mumbai harbour after the vessel sunk there last Monday following a collision with a cargo vessel.
On Sunday afternoon last week a convoy of navy ships was coming into Mumbai harbour after a ‘day at sea’ for families of sailors and officers. INS Vindhyagiri was in the fifth position coming towards the naval dockyard, which is on the far side of the port. Because of the naval dockyard’s location, ships often have to cross each other’s paths.
As the convoy was entering the port, the Cyprus flagged loaded container ship MV Nordlake was leaving the dock for the open sea. The lead ship in the naval convoy established communications with Nordlake and it was decided that both would go to the right of each other.
The ships behind the lead ship had to follow its course. However, INS Godavari had fallen behind and established its own communications with Nordlake, asking that both ships pass to the left of each other.
“This created a major confusion as rest of the convoy was passing right-to-right,” said an officer investigating the case.
To give space to INS Godavari to pass to its left, Nordlake turned right. Meanwhile, another inbound merchant ship, the Seychelles flagged MV Sea Eagle, which was moving towards the harbour and was ahead of Vindhyagiri, had come parallel to Vindhyagiri.
Then, both Nordlake and Sea Eagle were facing each other and thus established quick communication. They finally decided to pass to the right of each other.
As soon as Nordlake crossed Sea Eagle (which it missed by 20 metres) it found INS Vindhyagiri right ahead of it.
By now, it was too late to manoeuvre the ship and Nordlake crashed on the right side of Vindhyagiri at a right angle, leading to a fire in the ship’s boiler room.
“Another reason for the crash was that Nordlake was at high speed since it was going to open sea and Vindhyagiri was at slow speed as it was moving to port,” said an officer from Yellow Gate Police Station.
The crash cracked the Vindhyagiri’s hull, ruptured a fuel tank and ignited a massive fire. As the fire could not be controlled by the naval dockyard, help was sought from the Mumbai fire brigade. However, the firefighting efforts resulted in flooding aboard the frigate, which partially capsized on Monday and landed on the seabed. However, the water was too shallow for her to sink completely.
All 400 people on board the frigate were safely evacuated.
Vice-Admiral Sanjeev Bhasin, commander-in-chief, Western Naval Command, told the Times of India that the Navy would launch an inquiry and assess the damages. He said the navy would do its best to retrieve the ship and claim damages. First, fuel and water will be pumped out to make the ship lighter, then further operations will be carried out. The ship was carrying 300 tons of fuel, and oil booms were erected in case of an oil spill.
INS Vindhagiri was commissioned in 1981 and is a mostly indigenously built frigate. It was scheduled to be decommissioned in a year or two. On Saturday the Navy said the vessel will not be decommissioned immediately after being salvaged. A senior navy officer said the sunken vessel would be repaired and refitted so it can be brought back into service, according to the Asian Age. He added that once the refitting was done, the vessel would be able to serve in the Indian Navy for another five years.
The navy has laid a case of negligent navigation against the Nordlake. Ribarczyk P, managing director of German company Reederei ‘Nord’ Klaus E Oldendorff, which owns the Nordlake, told the Times of India, “We are not aware about a case being registered. However, we are going to conduct our own investigations. Our representative will be arriving in India as soon as he gets a visa. In the meantime, we have appointed a local representative to guide us in our investigations.”
Although much of the blame has been placed on poor communications, the port’s Traffic Management System has also been criticised, the Times of India reports. A former port official said, “The Vessel Traffic Management System, which monitors the movement of all ships from port, should have jumped in and sorted out the confusion. A lot of streamlining of traffic is needed on the Mumbai coast.”
This Vindhagiri collision is the most recent incident in a series of naval accidents over the last several years. In January 2008 the submarine INS Sindhughosh bumped the MV Leeds Castle while surfacing north of Mumbai, causing damage to the conning tower. In April 2006 the Veer class corvette INS Prahar hit the container ship MV Rajiv Gandhi off the western coast near Goa, and sank. And in December 2005 the Talwar class frigate INS Trishul collided with the Ambuja Lakshmi at the Mumbai port.
The shipping ministry is planning to revamp its communication system soon. In the last two years, there have been three major ship collisions. In August last year the merchant vessels MSV Chitra and MV Khalijia 3 collided outside Mumbai port. Also last year the coast guard ship Vivek sunk in the port after it was hit by Panamanian vessel Global Purity in March. On August 31, two ships collided at Indira Docks.