Navy launches survey of Mumbai harbour shipping channel

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The Indian Navy’s survey vessel, INS Yamuna, Wednesday conducted a survey of the entire shipping channel leading to and from the Bombay Port Trust and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust to trace sunken containers that fell off the sinking Panamanian ship MSC Chitra, an official said.

The survey started at 6 a.m. and was completed by the evening. It succeeded in identifying three containers in the vicinity of the channel, which has an average depth of around 20 metres.

However, the danger of sunken or floating containers looms large over the country’s biggest and busiest port – the authorities had Tuesday announced that around 120 containers had fallen off the MSC Chitra since the disaster Saturday.

‘The completion of the survey by the Indian Navy would help the port authorities assess the situation and examine the possibilities of resuming restricted maritime navigation through the shipping channel,’ the official explained.

In an unprecedented development in recent decades, all maritime activities have completely stopped in Mumbai since Saturday when MSC Chitra and a St. Kitts cargo carrier MV Khalijia-III collided, around five kilometres off Mumbai.

Port authorities are hopeful that normal maritime activities could be resumed by Sunday. They also confirmed that oil slicks have been sighted on the shore at Nariman Point and Cuffe Parade in south Mumbai Airoli in Thane, Uran, Mandovli and Elephanta Island in Raigad district.

Besides, mangroves have been hit by oil slick at Elephanta Island and in the vicinity of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and Navi Mumbai.

The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board has constituted four survey teams to assist the Coast Guard, district and local administrations in Mumbai, Mumbai Suburban, Thane and Raigad.

However, analysis of water samples have indicated that there is no contamination of the sea water from hazardous chemicals like sodium hydroxide or pesticides.

Relief teams have also secured the identity numbers of the 31 containers containing hazardous, toxic or inflammable materials and provided them to district authorities and other agencies for suitable action.

Meanwhile, a Mumbai court Wednesday granted anticipatory bail to Capt. M.R. Martin, chief of MSC Chitra, against whom Mumbai Police has registered an offence of negligence which led to the collision with MV Khalijia-III.

In a related development, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai took around half a tonne of fish samples from various bulk supply locations like Sassoon Dock, Sewree and Bhaucha Dhakka that were found to be contaminated.

The alarming development has prompted authorities to increase the sample testing and the state fisheries department has been directed to take up random sampling of fish landing at locations like Sassoon Dock.

The apprehension of contaminated fish ending up on their dining tables has driven fish lovers out of the fish markets across Mumbai, Thane and Raigad.

Fisherfolk armed with large quantifies of top favourite sea products like prawns, pomfrets, mackerel, crabs, lobsters, catfish, Bombay Duck and other varieties of fish reported near-zero sales as connoisseurs avoided the risk of buying contaminated products. The Indian navy on Thursday began moving merchant ships in and out of a major Mumbai port that was closed after two vessels collided and spilled containers, fuel and lubricants into the Arabian Sea, an official said.

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The Jawahar Lal Nehru port had been closed since Saturday because nearly 300 containers had been tossed overboard during the collision, posing a navigational hazard.

Using helicopters, minesweepers and sonar equipment, the navy created a safe channel in the sea and escorted seven ships out of the Mumbai harbor and brought in five vessels waiting to be berthed there, said Capt. Manohar Nambiar, a defense ministry spokesman.

Another five merchant ships were to be escorted out of the harbor later Thursday, Nambiar told The Associated Press.

Mumbai on India’s west coast is the country’s financial hub.

The containers had fallen off the MSC Chitra, which ran aground and has been listing heavily following the collision. It spilled nearly 500 tons of its fuel and lubricants before the leaks were plugged Monday. The second ship, the MV-Khalijia-II, suffered less damage.

“In view of the relatively rough position of the sea near the site, an attempt to stabilize the ship and pump fuel oil has not been started yet,” said a Maharashtra state government statement on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the salvers SMIT International, Singapore, recovered 15 containers from the sea.

The statement said the ship’s owner reported about 200 of the more than 500 containers on board were empty.

The government statement said analysis of water samples so far showed no contamination from hazardous chemicals like sodium hydroxide or pesticides.

However, oil has been sighted ashore in Mumbai, affecting mangroves in some areas.

Nearly 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) of fish samples in the area were contaminated with oil. Authorities have stepped up sample testing the quality of the fish catch, the statement said.

The state authorities have banned fishing in the area until Aug. 15.
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