Ship carrying 60,000 tons of coal sinks off Mumbai

MUMBAI - A Gujarat-bound cargo ship, carrying 60,000 tons of coal, sank off Mumbai today. The vessel's 30 crew members were rescued before the ship went down, but the accident has sparked fears of environmental pollution.

"The Panama-registered MV Rak has sunk 20 nautical miles off the Mumbai coast due to water in the cargo hull. We suspect that there were holes in the ship which led to water seeping in," inspector general of the Coast Guard, Mr SPS Basra, said. The sinking of the 225-metre-long vessel, which in addition to coal was carrying around 290 tons of fuel oil and 50 tons of diesel, has raised fears of an oil spill.

The Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) said it received information from the Mumbai port authorities at 8:00 am, that the vessel had been "adrift" since the early hours of today at the entrance of the Mumbai harbour. The ship, which was on its way from Tutung in Indonesia to Dahej in Gujarat, was built in 1984 and had a crew on board of Indonesian, Jordanian and Romanian citizens, the DGS said in a statement.

All of the relevant agencies were pressed into service after the call was received, and private merchant ships also helped, the DGS said. Eighteen of the crew members were rescued by an Indian Navy helicopter, and the rest were evacuated onto a private merchant ship.

As the ship was located at the entrance of the Mumbai Harbour, one of the busiest in the country, the Mumbai Port and the National Hydrographic Office have been advised to issue a navigational warning so that the mariners are aware in advance of the danger, the DGS statement said.

An emergency towing vessel (ETV), hired by the Shipping Corporation of India for the monsoon season due to its ability to navigate rough seas, was also requistioned and efforts were made to salvage the sinking ship, the DGS said.

The sinking of the vessel comes within five days of the oil tanker M T Pavit drifting from West Asia and running aground near the Juhu Beach. The tanker went unnoticed by all three tiers of coastal security, the Navy, Coast Guard, and Mumbai Police. A much bigger cargo ship, MV Wisdom, beached near Juhu in June.

MV Rak is owned by M/s Delta Shipping Marine Services in Qatar and is classified with the Lloyd's Register of Shipping, the DGS statement said.

The statement, which was updated at 1.30 p.m. when three-quarters of the ship was already submerged, said no pollution has so far been reported from the site. The Coast Guard's oil pollution response vessel, Samudra Prahari, is located close to the ship keeping a tab on it and attempts are being made to mark the ship with a buoy.