Smoke seen emanating from container vessel, says official.
Kolkata: Cargo vessel MV SSL Kolkata was still seen emitting smoke in the Sundarbans of the Bay of Bengal finally on Sunday afternoon on Monday despite an Indian Air Force chopper having put off its fire on Sunday, a defence official said.
The smoke was seen billowing out of MV SSL Kolkata on Monday during a visual recce by the Coast Guard aircraft, he added. “A recce by a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft on Monday morning revealed that smoke continues to emanate though there is no visible flame,” sefence spokesperson Wing Commander S.S. Birdi said.
The container ship had been burning at sea since June 13 night. It also released some photos to substantiate the presence of smoke.
Chief PRO (Eastern Command) Wing Commander S.S. Birdi informed that no sooner than the call was received at the Helicopter Unit based at Barackpore on Sunday morning, the pilots and crew swung into action: while the maintenance crew prepared the aircraft for offshore operations, the operations crew was busy drawing up maps and obtaining necessary information.
The mission was led by Wing Commander Nikhil Mehrotra along with Flight Lieutenant Atul Mishra. Wing Commander Birdi elaborated, “The helicopter arrived at Frazergunj Harbour helipad at 13.15 pm which, though small in size, was the nearest to the location of the ill-fated vessel.”
Giving details of the IAF operation he explained, “With total support from the Coast Guard and the harbour officials, the helicopter was airborne for fire dousing by 14.15 pm. The burning ship was soon located and approximately 15,000 litres of water was poured in six shuttles. Having completed the task in less than 90 minutes the helicopter was flown back to Frazergunj.”
Wing Commander Mehrotra pointed out that being surrounded by thick smoke emanating from the ship deck, it was a huge challenge to maintain clear of the tall structures on the ship like the cargo cranes, and yet deliver the water spray from an appropriate height for it to be most effective.
With each passing shuttle, it was also important to assess the pattern of fire for the next release, he underlined. Sharing his experience Wing Commander Mehrotra said, “Needless to say, that pilot skill counts most on the effectiveness of such a mission and we did achieve it within minutes, considering the number of days for which the fire has been burning.”
A day after the IAF operation the ICG stated, “Coast Guard Dornier from Kolkata which undertook aerial recce of MV SSL Kolkata reported smoke still emanating from the vessel. Not much change in the quantity of smoke since yesterday. No oil spill observed around the vessel.”
The statement elaborated, “Coast Guard ship Rajkiran sailed in the morning from Haldia with the members of Salvage team embarked and is on the way to vessel daring rough seas and challenging weather conditions. One platform support vessel coming from Kakinada alongwith Coast Guard ship Rajkiran are likely to reach the vessel by today evening.”
It added, “Further salvaging the vessel will be planned after on scene assessment of the vessel’s condition and smoke coming from it. Meanwhile Coast Guard ships are maintaining round the clock vigil in vicinity of SSL Kolkata. Four hovercrafts at Frazerganj and two Coast Guard ships at Haldia are standby for any support and particularly pollution response, if situation arises.”
Asked if the ship was still burning sources in ICG argued, “Though the fire was not seen, we never claimed the fire was doused. We are now waiting for the salvage team to confirm.” Sources in IAF however reasoned that a visual recce, immediately conducted by ICG after the fire-fighting operation revealed smoke emanating from the vessel.
Although the smoke was expected to stop eventually, a recce by the ICG Dornier on Monday morning revealed smoke still emanating despite no visible flame, sources disclosed adding at around 6 pm a ICG Dornier was again launched to carry out a visual assessment of the situation. Meanwhile the IAF Mi-17 V5 chopper remains positioned in Frazerganj to carry out dousing operations if and again.