Mumbai: As investigators piece together events that led to the collision of a container vessel and a bulk carrier off the coast of Mumbai on August 7, it now emerges that a final frantic bid by the captains of the two vessels to communicate with each other failed — two minutes before the collision.
The Panama-registered MSC Chitra collided with the St Kitts-registered bulk carrier MV Khalijia 3 at 9.37 am on August 7 in broad daylight and clear conditions. Following the collision, nearly 900 tonnes of oil leaked out of MSC Chitra and the Mumbai Port and Jawaharlal Nehru Port had to be closed for five days.
Transcripts of conversations recorded by the Simplified Voice Data Recorder (SVDR) on board MSC Chitra reveal that MV Khalijia made a sudden and inexplicable swerve to her port side (the left side of a ship as perceived by a person on board facing the front or the bow) — not as per navigation rules which state that vessels using a narrow channel or fairway, as was the case here, should stay as close to the starboard side as is safe and practical so as to pass on the port side of the other.
Khalijia's captain, according to the transcript, repeatedly urged Chitra to alter course to her port side as well, admittedly in contravention of conventional practice and regulations.
Representatives of MSC Ship Management Ltd said on Friday that this was merely sticking to the rulebook. “Why she turned sharply to port remains unknown,” said Captain N Malhotra of MSC Ship Management, adding that only the inquiry by DG (Shipping) would yield final answers on accountability. But MbPT sources maintained that the regulations for Prevention of Collision at Sea are explicit: The container vessel should have taken every step to avoid collision, including deviating from set navigation norms.
The Yellowgate police station in Mumbai which recorded the statements of the operator of the Vehicle Traffic Management System — used by JNPT as well as MbPT as they share the navigational channel of the Mumbai harbour, but operated by the latter — confirmed that MV Khalijia 3, prima facie, appeared to have erred by swerving to the wrong side, at high speed.
The management of MSC said that the pilot had disembarked at 3.43 GMT (9.13 am IST), about 24 minutes prior to collision. His last instructions to the master of the vessel were to stay on his starboard (right) side in the channel, and expect three vessels to pass him port side, including the Khalijia. About seven minutes later, at 9.20 am, Khalijia began to move after lifting anchor, her first movement since running aground on July 18. Two tugboats assisted her briefly, but she then entered the channel unassisted, a point investigators are now raising.
At 9.32, a pilot is heard asking Khalijia to hurry to make it in time to dock — the pilot-pick-up time had been fixed at 9.30 am. “Increase to 7 knots and come up,” the MbPT pilot waiting to navigate Khalijia tells the master.
Asked why a vessel that had run aground and would need repairs soon was entering the channel unguided, amid peak-hour traffic and without a pilot on board, MbPT chairman Rahul Asthana said only the inquiry by the Director General (Shipping) would be able to judge the culpability of various stakeholders.
“I do not know what VTMS relayed to the ships. I have not seen the logs, officials of the DG (Shipping) have heard the recordings. Only an inquiry report will establish what went wrong.” Asthana said.
In the following few seconds, Khalijia is heard insisting that his vessel is “going to port only”. Somewhat indecipherable conversation follows before the collision at 9:37 am, when the captain of MSC Chitra is heard telling port traffic controllers that he has had a collision.
The transcript of the SVDR recording:
9:35:04: Chitra turns to Starboard 20
9:35:05: CHITRA: “Isko kya ho gaya?” (Captain of Chitra reacting to what appears to be MV Khalijia swerving sharply to port side after having stayed on her starboard side while approaching the navigational channel)
9:35:25: KHALIJIA 3: “MSC, MSC, this is Khalijia 3. I am altering to port. I am altering my course to port. Pass on my starboard. Over.”
9:35:37: KHALIJIA 3: “MSC MSC, this is Khalijia 3. I am altering to port. I am altering to port. You also to port please.”
9:35:37: CHITRA: “Paagal ho gaya hai kya?” (Captain of Chitra talking on board, appears to be talking to a duty officer)
9:35:41: CHITRA: “Hard starboard” (urgently, ordering finally evasive action, too late)
9:35:49: KHALIJIA 3: “MSC, MSC. Alter to port please.”
9:35:51: KHALIJIA 3: “Alter to port please.”
9:35:59: “Alter to port.”