A faulty electronic steering system may have caused last week’s ship collision, according to the captain and crew of a private tug that was escorting the MV Khalijia-III when it crashed into the MSC Chitra last Saturday.
“I suspect there could have been a steering failure as Khalijia-III continued to turn even after seeing Chitra,” said Captain R.K. Hukku, who was in charge of the tug escorting Khalijia-III to the Mumbai port.
Officials from the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS), the agency investigating the collision, has said it will look into the charge.
The collision, which forced both the Mumbai and Navi Mumbai ports to shut for four days, also caused 879 metric tonnes of fuel oil to spill into the ocean, choking birds, marine life and mangroves along the city’s 100-km coastline.
The MSC Chitra, which remains marooned just off the coast of Mumbai, is still carrying hundreds of metric tonnes of furnace oil and containers packed with hazardous chemical and pesticides.
At the time of the crash, the Khalijia-III was headed to Mumbai while the Chitra was heading out of Navi Mumbai's Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) towards Gujarat.
According to recordings obtained from the Simplified-Voyage Data Recorder, a device similar to the black box in an aircraft, the Khalijia-III made a sudden, sharp turn and reentered the channel, crashing into the other vessel.
“We could see the accident happening but couldn't do anything to avert it,” said a crewmember of the tug.
He added that the Khalijia-III had been undergoing repairs just before the crash and had just left the repairs dock for the first time in about two months.
Officials from the DGS have confirmed that either the Khalijia-III or the Chitra broke the rules of navigation by altering its course.
The DGS is also investigating whether the Khalijia-III was going too fast. According to transcripts from the Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS), an official asked Khalijia-III to hurry to make it in time to dock. “Our report will be out in a month,” said a senior DGS official.
The DGS is also investigating whether the pilot appointed to the MSC Chitra disembarked early. JNPT, like most major ports, appoints a pilot to each ship, to guide it through the shipping channel. While the MCS Chitra’s pilot was picked up at the designated spot, he is believed to have disembarked midway through his duties.
Though the crash did not occur in the zone he was meant to help navigate, the impropriety will be probed, a DGS official said.