When cyclone Nilam beached oil tanker Pratibha Cauvery on the Marina last year killing six people, it opened Pandora’s box. The 31-year-old ship was not sea worthy at the time of the incident.
The owner of the grounded vessel managed to salvage her, but the company was forced to sell her for scrapping later. The ageing fleet of Indian ships is now a worrying factor considering the lives of sailors onboard apart from the environmental pollution they cause and other marine related issues.
A recent study has found that 41 per cent of merchant vessels are above 20 years of age in the country. The details available on Directorate General of Shipping website shows that 375 vessels are aged above 26 years.
According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham)’s analysis, of the total 1,122 shipping vessels in India, about 466 vessels fall in the age group of 20 years and more. The analysis says considering the average life of a shipping vessel is about 26 years, most of the existing Indian vessels need to be replaced.
DG shipping’s chief ship surveyor R.M. Suresh Kumar said it was not mandatory to retire a vessel. It may be noted that Union shipping minister G.K. Vasan was instrumental in imposing restrictions on entry of foreign ships older than 25 years into Indian ports or its territorial waters, while also imposing stricter rules when older ships are dumped in the Indian market.
The ships have to follow regulations laid down by the International Association of Classification Societies, which sets standards for design, construction and life-cycle maintenance of ships to ensure safety of life, property and environment. The foreign vessels also need to possess insurance from a reputed company.
Noting that the country’s shipping fleet has increased from 549 vessels in 2000 to 1,122 vessels in 2011, Assocham secretary general D.S. Rawat in his analysis said a majority of Indian ships were less competitive at present as mostly younger vessels less than 15 years old were preferred in international maritime trade and commerce.