MV Nu Shi Nalini – A Ticking Time-Bomb?

By Ashwin Tombat
17 November 2019 18:59 IST

Is Nu Shi Nalini, the naphtha tanker that has run aground off Raj Bhawan and Dona Paula, really safe, as Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant and Ports Minister Michael Lobo have been saying?

Very possibly not.

The Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) told the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court on Friday 8 November that the vessel is in danger of breaking up and could result in possible spillage of 2,488.707 tonnes of naphtha, 50 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 19 tonnes of diesel present in its holds and tanks…!

The Nu Shi Nalini’s cargo of naphtha is supposed to be safe because the ship has a ‘double bottom’. But the trouble started after the ship left Mundra port on 8 June 2018 last year; its cargo of naphtha leaked into the pump room and engine room on 13 June 2018. The pump room was 3m (9ft 9in) deep in naphtha and the engine room was 6m (19ft 6in) deep in naphtha. 

Owing to the leak, the ship diverted from its route to Colombo and anchored off Kochi. The leaked naphtha was transferred to an empty tank. But residual naphtha fumes caused a massive explosion and fire in the engine room, completely knocking out both power generation and propulsion.

Yogesh Kanji Solanki, a young trainee mechanical engineer, suffered 80 per cent burns in the explosion. He was taken off the ship by a Navy helicopter despite gusting winds and torrential rain, but succumbed to his injuries in the hospital.

If the cargo tanks are secure, then how did the initial leak, which caused the explosion and fire, happen? More important, the very same engine room – into which the naphtha initially leaked – has filled up with sea water after the ship was grounded.

On 29 June 2019, when the Kerala High Court ordered the ship to be towed away, a newspaper in the state described Nu Shi Nalini as a “powder keg” and a “ticking time-bomb”. It went on to quote an unnamed Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) official as saying, almost prophetically: “Chances are high for the ship to break its anchorage and drift away…”

Authorities in Goa should have read those reports. Regrettably, they didn’t. The ship was towed into Mormugao Port jurisdiction on 15 July 2019. It had no power generation, no propulsion, and no crew – in blatant and egregious violation of all maritime rules. How a ship that was refused entry by all ports in India – including relatively minor ports like Jaigarh – was allowed entry to Mormugao, a major port, needs to be thoroughly investigated.

The ship is owned by Arya Ship Charterers Pvt Ltd and managed by Elektrans Shipping Pvt Ltd. Both companies are related entities; Elektrans Managing Director Gautam Daniel Chopra is also a Director of Arya, as well as of 15 other companies. Around 13 of the 15 are located at two addresses in Mumbai, and share two email addresses. Interestingly, Elektrans went into liquidation earlier this year. Even more interestingly, the main business of the ship owner – the Arya Group – is, guess what; iron ore…!

But the move to Goa was organised by the Allahabad Bank, which took over the ship against a mortgage to secure a loan of Rs45 crore.

Then began a veritable comedy of errors.

Swiss Singapore Overseas Enterprises Pvt Ltd and ship owners Arya Ship Charterers Pvt Ltd claimed that the naphtha in the ship was “contaminated”, and that Canacona Hydrocarbons, a Goa-based licensed recycler of hazardous waste, would remove and treat the ‘contaminated’ naphtha.

The Customs Department insisted that the naphtha was uncontaminated, that it was brought from Karachi, Pakistan and, following the terrorist attack at Pulwama and the Indian government’s withdrawal of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan, was liable for 200 per cent duty. As a result, no one in India was ready to purchase the naphtha.

The ship owners then decided on a Ship-to-Ship (STS) transfer. The cargo would be transferred to another ship, which would then leave the country. But senior Customs officers were reluctant. Many went “on leave”. No permission was given. The STS transfer was to be on 25 October 2019. But Customs permissions were not forthcoming, and plans shifted to 27 or 31 October. But on the night of 25 October itself, the ship dragged anchor and settled down off Raj Bhawan…

Two salvage firms took up contracts in Kochi, but abandoned them. The Goa government asked three companies to bid. India-based Resolve Salvage and Fire refused. Singapore based SMIT Salvage withdrew its bid on 12 November, leaving the Dutch Marine Masters as the only bidder, for $3.4 million (Rs25 crore).

Hopefully, Nu Shi Nalini will not turn out to be another River Princess…

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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