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India probes 'ghost ship' grounding

03 august 2011, 17:34
India's maritime authorities were on Wednesday probing how an unmanned oil tanker managed to drift undetected into the country's coastal waters before running aground off the coast of Mumbai, AFP reports.

The head of India's maritime watchdog the Directorate General of Shipping, S.B. Agnihotri, said an investigation has been launched into how no-one spotted the MT Pavit, which ran aground at a north Mumbai beach on Sunday.

"We will in our inquiry be looking at this particular issue," he told reporters on Tuesday amid concerns about coastal security, which was supposed to have been improved after the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks.

"We are looking at these 100 hours when the detection has not happened."

Defence ministry spokesman Captain M. Nambiar told AFP on Wednesday that the 13-strong crew of the Pavit sent out a distress call after the ship's engine room was flooded and power was lost off the Gulf state of Oman on June 29.

They abandoned ship the following day.

"It was thought that this particular ship was sunk. After that, the next information was that the ship was off the Mumbai coast and had run aground," he added.

The ship ran aground near Juhu beach in the north of Mumbai in the early hours of Sunday. Another ship, the MV Wisdom, was grounded close to the same spot last month.

Coastal security has been a major issue for the authorities in India's financial and entertainment capital after 10 heavily-armed Islamist extremists hijacked a fishing boat off the Indian coast in November 2008.

The captain was then forced to take the boat to Mumbai. The militants killed the crew and came ashore undetected in an inflatable dinghy before attacking high-profile targets in the city, killing 166 and injuring more than 300.

Responsibility for coastal security falls on the Indian Navy, which patrols the outer limits of Indian territorial waters, the Coastguard and Maharashtra state marine police nearer to shore.

Work has begun to salvage the Panama-flagged ship, which can carry up to 1,000 tonnes of cargo, and contact has been made with the vessel's owners and insurers, Agnihotri added.

The vessel was carrying 10 tonnes of fuel oil and 10 tonnes of gas oil but no spill had been detected.

A case for negligence has been registered with police in Mumbai, the DG Shipping said earlier this week.

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