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Arrested Italian tanker Enrica blocking crude oil unloading at Kochi Port - 2012-02-20

The Kochi Port finds itself in a catch-22 situation following the detention of the Italian tanker, Enrica Lexie, which was involved in the killing of two fishermen off Kerala coast last week. The vessel, anchored at the port's oil terminal, is said to be blocking berthing of other vessels, thereby affecting unloading of crude oil. Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd's Kochi refinery, which is exclusively using the berth, has taken up the matter with the port authorities.

According to the company's officials, one vessel is already waiting for berthing and unless the Italian tanker is removed from the present location, other vessels cannot be berthed. This could lead to delay in handling the oil cargo and result in payment of demurrages, officials said. The law-enforcement agencies in Kerala had detained the Italian ship pending investigation. Armed guards on board the vessel had shot at fishermen mistaking them for pirates. The incident took place 15 nautical miles off Alleppy. The ship was subsequently moved to Kochi.

If the vessel continues to stay at the same location, it could prove to be a burden for the already cash-starved port. Oil and petroleum products account for a major part of the port's cargo. Cochin oil terminal is the only berth in the port which can accommodate crude tankers with 12.5-m draft. The other two berths — North and South Tanker berths — are used for product loading and unloading by the company's refinery.

In the last fiscal, the port handled 17.87 million tones of cargo. Of this, 8.86 million tonnes was crude oil and 3.24 million tonnes was POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) products handled between oil terminal and North Tanker berths. About 15 per cent of the entire cargo handled by the port is through the oil terminal. The Italian vessel, being a tanker and given its size, can only be accommodated at the oil terminal. If the vessel remains in the oil terminal, it could affect handling of POL cargo, said a port official.

It is not clear how long it will take the investigations into the incident. What the unfortunate incident reveals is the fact that with increasing number of ships carrying armed guards to protect themselves against the pirates, fishermen now face an additional risk when holding their position against incoming ships. If the armed guards breach safety regulations and fire at innocent fishermen, the very purpose of allowing guards on boards is defeated, said a shipping company official.

Source: Hindu Business Line