SALVAGE | Smit to pull out Beluga’s Tiger Spring

Dutch firm Smit-Lloyd BV has been engaged to pull the damaged [containership] Tiger Spring from the riverbed at the narrow Hooghly Point stretch and salvage the containers the ship is carrying.

The Rotterdam-based company specialises in maritime rescue work.

Green Valley, the other ship involved in yesterday’s collision, has been taken to Diamond Harbour.

Shipping industry experts said the containers aboard Tiger Spring needed to be evacuated before the vessel can be taken to a port. The experts said a crane mounted on a vessel would be needed to empty Tiger Spring but it would be difficult because the strong current at Hooghly Point would make anchoring of such vessels difficult.

M.L. Meena, the Calcutta Port Trust chairman, said the owner of Tiger Spring had taken the responsibility of rescuing the ship, which had drifted from its designated course because of a locked steering wheel. But some port officials today did not rule out “human error”.

“It is unclear how the two ships came so close. They should not have even tried to pass each other in that narrow stretch,” a veteran captain said.

Ships are fitted with automatic identifying systems, which can not only locate other ships within a range of 40km to 50km but also show details such as vessel size and destination. Ships are also equipped with high-frequency systems that allow pilots to communicate with each other.

“It is obvious that both ships knew about their precise locations and should have avoided crossing each other at Hooghly Point,” another pilot said.


There are comments that shold have never been uttered.

Okay, the ships “should have avoided crossing each other”. However, it is not clear whether they were able to avoid it. Even if they were, one should be curious to find out why two captains would engage in a seemingly dangerous maneuver.

When an accident happens, humans tend to aprioristically attribute the cause to “motivation”, or lack thereof: the masters were careless, or the pilots, reckless… Rarely I see somebody consider, for example, how difficult is for a captain to cope with the increased workload and stress engendered by operations in restricted waters — especially in modern-day shipping.

If, as the news suggest, there was a steering problem on board the Tiger Spring, the ensuing confusion would have surely been a huge challenge to the abilities of the experts of both ships. And it is usually in such situations that the safeguards designed to prevent accidents fail.

There is almost always “human error” in an accident. After all, ships are systems designed, managed and operated by humans. But putting the blame on the masters and pilots involved without further evidence is as unprofessional as it is an error, and does not serve well the interests of the safety at sea.

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