Friday, July 29, 2011




MV Karmatang and MV Afra Bay
As Good as Scrap

It's official now. MV Karmatang and MV Afra Bay will remain in the Marine dockyard for life, with occasional trip towards Ross Island illuminated on Republic Days and other days of national importance.

By Zubair Ahmed

Gen. Bhopinder Singh, Lt Governor had commissioned two roll on/roll off vehicles ferries on 27 January 2009 to augment the services in harbour ferry sectors. It was supposed to improve the services between Middle strait and Baratang as well as Gandhi Ghat and Uttara Jetty in Kadamtala, Middle Andaman.

 Both the vessels were built jointly by GRSE Ltd and Corporated Shipyard Pvt Limited, Kolkata in 2008. The vessels were designed and supervised by National Ship Design & Research Centre, Vizag, a Ministry of Shipping & Transport Enterprise.
Roll on/roll off was a design where the vehicles could move in from one and move out from the other. Further, the vessels were jet propelled ones powered by three 450 hp Cummins DG sets with two orifices each on portside and starboard side and two each at the front and rear though, in such concept there would be no front and rear. The vessel did not need to take a turn as it could move back and forth and sideways as the necessity demanded.
 The traditional 'wheelhouse' did not have any wheel but two joysticks like those in aircrafts for manoeuvring. The masters were a little uncomfortable with both the jet propulsion and the joysticks. "The orifices at either end are provided with guards that protrude out of the bottom flats. If we take the ferry too close to the ramp, the guard will hit the ramp. If we keep it a little away from the ramp, embarkation and disembarkation might be difficult for the vehicles" confided one of the masters.
 The ro-ro was a recent development started only in 1994. It was found to be performing very satisfactorily in case of large vessels carrying 600 cars, large quantity of cargo and passengers across English Channel etc. In India, it was learnt, only Goa and Chennai had experimented with Ro-Ro with not very flattering results.
"In remote places like Andamans that lack modern technology and manpower to handle sophisticated innovative technologies and systems, we need more traditional and low tech vessels that can be maintained and serviced without much problem.
There was no provision to take in port power supply. The vessel had to keep the generators running 24/7. The vessels had single plate hull as against double hull in other older series of vessels that provided extra safety in case of an underwater accident. The draught was merely about a metre and light in weight. From the beginning, the masters were apprehensive that during rough weather the vessels might not be able to cross over to Bambooflat from Marine complex.
From day one, there was apprehension from the masters and crew that the design was a failure as far as our demands were concerned. But, who cares about their voice. They were treated as old school with no knowledge of modern technology.
It took not more than six months to prove that the design as well as make had serious flaws. The administration could do nothing to rectify it. It took more than a year to decide what modifications to carry out. It was worked at about 75 lakhs each. But once again NSDRC gave a skip and did not stand guarantee to the modifications.
Now, it is learnt that the administrator has given the approval to fix accountability. The Administration is in the process of sending notice to GRSE. But, it is strange that how a design which was alien and not fit for the Islands got the nod from DSS? When contacted the authorities informed that there is nothing on file about the proposal of such boats.
Whoever waited to see how these new toys of National Ship Design & Research Centre would fare in the Islands could not know how to hide the blunder they had committed.  Fixing accountability is one thing and finding a solution is another.
It is high time the Islanders realize that the A&N Shipping services have become a laboratory for the shipping ministry and NSDRC. However, NSDRC did not have to bother as it remains immune. Time will tell whether the administration will be able to fix accountability either on NSDRC or GRSE?


ANI Needs Private Dockyard and More Boats: Mohandas, Secretary, MoS

By Zubair Ahmed

The administration has been facing acute criticism in maintaining the shipping services, the lifeline of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
On board M V Pilokunji, Shri Mohandas, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Shipping interacted with LOA and gave a patient hearing to various issued faced by the Islanders in the shipping sector.

On the issue of shortage of boats and the inconsistent service between Bambooflat and Chatham, he said that more boats should be procured to meet the acute crisis faced by the commuters. He assured that the issue will be taken up at the right earnest, if a proposal is mooted by the administration.
On the failure of maintenance of boats by Directorate of Shipping, he suggested that private dockyards are the only solution. He also said that if private parties are keen to run dockyards, MoS can facilitate the process.
When asked about National Ship Research and Design Centre (NSRDC), which had designed the two failed RO-RO vessels - MV Karmatang and MV Afra Bay, he said that the centre is not defunct and is now part of the Indian Maritime University. However, he was non-committal on the fate of the boats.
M K Abdul Gafoor, member, Working Committee, Humane Touch drew the attention of the Secretary towards the plight of daily commuters, who have to bear the consequences of the crippled ferry service.

An Enigma called NSDRC

The National Ship Design & Research Centre, Visakhapatnam was a prestigious autonomous society under the Ministry of Shipping and now a part of Indian Maritime University. It extends consultancy to various shipping companies, docks and harbours.
The Andaman & Nicobar Administration hired its design and consultancy services extensively. PMB, DSS and ANIIDCO were its regular clients. Lately, the DSS started retaining it for supervision of the construction of ships built for the administration. Designing was already with the NSDRC.
However, the engineers at the DSS wonder the quality of supervision, NSDRC extended.  They designed the two failed vessels - MV Afra Bay and MV Karmatang. "The ships are designed by them. They are the best people to ensure that the final product meets their exacting design requirements" said an irate engineer who chose to remain anonymous. "How could they clear ships like the Ro-RO vessels for delivery when the most fundamental component - the engine itself was faulty?
Speaking to LOA, a shipping official said that NSDRC is no more designing ships for the Administration. However, the perennial damage has been already inflicted. And, the Administration cannot fix accountability on NSDRC, as they have already washed their hands off saying that designers cannot guarantee the end product.

Elusive Shipping Corporation of ANI

By Staff Reporter

The feasibility study for a Shipping Corporation of Andaman and Nicobar Islands seems to be in a jinxed state even after two years. The Admn is planning to re-tender for awarding consultancy after the track record of the lowest bidder was found unsatisfactory technically. This time, they are planning to have separate tenders - technical and financial.

The consultant is to prepare a report to address the issues of feasibility, scope and nature of activities to be entrusted to the proposed Shipping Corporation of A&N Islands and activities which can be outsourced, phases and mode of transfer of services and infrastructure and other related matter.
Lack of technical expertise at the command of A&N Administration was evident when Shakti Sinha as Principal Secretary (Shipping) had said that the Isles don't even have proper technical manpower to evaluate the offers.
In addition, the administration has also floated tenders for technical supervision and manning of vessels under DSS to agencies other than SCI, which has been fleecing the administration for a long time disregarding the upkeep of the vessels or service. The Lieutenant Governor after inspecting the conditions of two mainland ships had a feel of the services of SCI.
It is alleged that the shipping ministry keeps a hawk's eye on the shipping sector activities of the island administration. The ministry has ensured that the shipping corporation has a finger in every pie. Maintenance and operations of mainland bound ships, technical consultancy for inter-island, award of repair and maintenance works for new generation ships, everything is with the shipping corporation of India. And the services rendered is pathetic, to say the least. But the entire administration is helpless.
Out of 17 foreshore ships under SCI, the technical supervision and manning contract of 8 ships have been given to other agencies. There were about 26 ships under the care of SCI - 17 in foreshore sector, 4 in Inter-Island and 5 in mainland sector.
"We are trying to break free from the clutches of SCI. It has gone on for much too long for comfort" said a DSS official on anonymity. However, the officials are aware that there will be stiff resistance from the SCI and the Ministry of Shipping. "Nobody would let go a goose that lays golden eggs" he continued. But they are hopeful in view of the serious interest taken both at the bureaucratic and the Administrator's level.

The Genesis of Vehicle Ferries

By Zubair Ahmed

In 80s MV Kadamtala, a vehicle ferry joined the fleet of DSS and commenced ferrying of vehicles, largely buses and trucks, the most common vehicles in that era. With time, people started acquiring vehicles of different types - 4-wheelers and 2-wheelers. And, MV Kadamtala was not sufficient.

In 1990s the administration placed order for four vehicle ferries - MV Muss, MV Pilomillow, MV Pilokunji and MV Pilobhabhi. The vessels built by M/s Shalimar Shipyard, a sick unit - financially and technically, required support and the Ministry helped it by infusing funds from our share. Only two out of the four boats are operational now. Both are maintained as white elephants. More funds than the actual cost have been spent to keep the vessels operational.
In 2000s, the route between Bambooflat and Chatham required at least four vehicle ferries to keep the flow of vehicles and commuters uninterrupted. The administration acquired the classic Austins. There is nothing to talk about the whole project. Five of them were procured from a local builder and only God knows the status of the same.
The general state of prosperity made people to become more independent of the other pain called State Transport Services and they acquired more two-wheelers and four-wheelers. They did not know that their independence will be curtailed and be made dependent on the only regularly irregular vehicle ferry service.
With the acquisition of two advanced Vehicle Ferries - MV Lapathy and MV Northbay, the congestion did ease and the services improve, but the requirement was for four vehicle ferries, which DSS could never provide.
They did place order for two more boats - MV Afra Bay and MV Karmatang. This time, the design and technology of the boats were the villains. The boats procured at massive cost to the exchequer have already been pronounced scrap without giving any service.The process of procuring boats has been just initiated. From past experience, we know when one can expect their induction. We are lagging behind ten years due to failed planning.
Now, everyday, more than 14000 commuters use the route between Bambooflat and Chatham. The shipping department subsidises the service by almost 95%. It is a tremendous drain on the national exchequer. Nobody is bothered about it since the A&N Administration has nothing to contribute. Our myopic and shortsightedness does not allow us to think big. An alternate - bridge or tunnel are considered preposterous suggestions. But the cost-benefit? In one year’s time the number of users would double. Apart from 24 hour movement of goods and passengers, it would reduce the cost of power evacuation, increase efficiency and facilitate water and telecom lines. Within five years the face of the area right from Bambooflat to Shoalbay on the west and up to Ferrarganj in south would change beyond recognition. And that too without much governmental intervention!
But that needs a dreamer to visualize tomorrow. A good connectivity is one single agenda that, if pursued sincerely, would change the face of the islands in a very short span of time. But all one knows, it might not be in the agenda of the administration. Because, thinking and planning for us is done on a different planet.


Myopic Vision

The Light of Andamans did many covers on the Shipping sector of the Islands. From 2005 to 2011, when we browse our archives, we feel ashamed to once again write the same lines and words without much change on the ground.
But, the dismal state of affairs and the recent visit of Secretary Shipping forced us to revisit the issue and clear the air once again about the "threadbare" discussions he had with the administration on all issues related to shipping, port and allied matters.
Two sectors - Inter-Island and Harbour ferry - are always mired in controversies. Lack of sufficient boats in these sectors and the delay in planning and procurement foreseeing the demand is where the authorities have failed repeatedly. When ships procured does not serve the purpose like in the case of the two Ro-Ro vessels, the crisis will be felt for more than a decade.
The keel for a 500-pax ship, MV Campbell Bay was laid in 2002. It was supposed to be delivered in December 2005. After a prolonged delay of six years, a press release in May 2011 announced that it will join the fleet by June 2011. It has completed trial run but will join only after September. This delay is awful, but our fate is sealed.
MV Kalighat and MV Chuglam are classic examples of delay and planning gone awry. Kalighat was delivered after 20 years of placing the order. MV Chuglam is lying in the dockyard since induction.
Every time, an imaginary silver line is shown to keep things under control. In July 2007, the ship acquisition committee of Ministry of Shipping approved the proposal for acquisition of 25 new ships by the Administration as replacement of existing ships and new ships to meet the ever increasing demand. But, till May 2011, a delay of 4 years, MoS was sleeping on the issue. And, a new committee, National Board of Shipping has been formed with Capt PVK Mohan as its Chairman in May to acquire ships.
The committee visited various countries - Greece, Italy and Turkey and has identified 5 vessels of different specifications for chartering or leasing them. The vehicle ferries identified will be on lease and will be technically managed and manned by the firms themselves. It has to be seen when the vessels will reach our shores and mitigate the crisis faced in this sector. The planning not done in time will have direct impact on the development of the Islands. Same is the case with other departments too. Shortage of power is a case in point.

No comments: