The mystery behind what the 36-year-old Anchor Handling Tug (AHTS) Seabulk Plover, with the 26-year-old container ship MV Wisdom, due for scrapping, was actually doing along the Indian coast for almost two weeks before the container ship landed up on the beach off Juhu, now begins to deepen
Yesterday, we had questioned why container ship MV Wisdom, which was being towed to the Alang junk yard, obtained permission to sail so close to the Mumbai coast and the sensitive Bombay High oil installation. (Why was the MV Wisdom allowed to get so near the Bandra-Worli Sea Link? ).
First of all, here are some facts, as known, and re-verified:
Ship Type: Tug
Year Built: 1975
Length x Breadth: 66mx13m
Deadweight: 759 tonnes
Speed recorded (Max /Average): 10/ 9 knots
Flag: St Vincent Grenadines [VC]
Call Sign: J8SE
IMO: 7401332, MMSI: 376054000
Last Position Received
Area: Indian Ocean
Latitude / Longitude: 6.797163° / 79.62228° (Map)
Currently in Port:
Last Known Port:
Info Received: 14d 17h 59min 48s ago
Not Currently in Range
Voyage Related Info (Last Received)
Draught: 4.8 m
ETA: 2011-05-31 07:30
Info Received: 2011-05-30 09:56 (14d, 20h 22min 2s ago)
Translated, that means the tug-tow combo was off Colombo for days, till around forenoon on 30th May. After that, the combo set course towards India, but more importantly and interestingly, simply stopped updating her positions anymore. Why was she hanging around outside Colombo, if her sale to the Alang breakers had already been decided months ago? Yes, the reasons could have been commercial, but with the monsoon breaking, it would have made more sense to move on towards the eventual destination-just ahead of the really bad weather.
Incidentally, that "000" in her MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity, or the satellite communication identity) number means that she had some very powerful radio equipment onboard, as well as qualified specialist radio operators, not uncommon for tugs of her sort-but also in no uncertain way making it very clear that people onboard knew what reporting they were supposed to make, and had the equipment to do so too. No excuses on this account. It would be very interesting to get hold of a log of her normal communications, which by rights would have been monitored in not just India but at multiple stations worldwide. And copies retained onboard. Unless destroyed. Which is also known to happen.
Here are some details from this site: http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/datasheet.aspx?datasource=ITINERARIES&MMSI=376054000
Daily Vessel's Itineraries
The update on positions comes to an abrupt end on the 30th of May.
This business of updating positions is directly related also to the vessel's identification signals broadcast all the time, as a regulation, and especially when within territorial waters or close to traffic lanes. That the Seabulk Plover & Wisdom were not doing so would have been noticed by any ship or coast station. Such a huge target, especially a ship in ballast and riding high, would be easily visible from a coast radar station for a distance of over 100km-120km and from other ships for a distance of around at least 50km, if not more. And not providing identity signals would have been observed by any of the many naval and civil station en route. What action did any of them take?
Now the question arises: did none of them relay information to anybody about an unknown tug-tow combo on the high seas without their AIS (Automatic Identification System) on? Or was there something else? Yes, ships are known to switch off their AIS as well as other identity signals, especially if they are in high-piracy areas, because in such cases it is a part of the anti-piracy measures. But they do not switch off their AIS along the areas with heavy traffic, like the Indian coast. And not if challenged by the authorities over radio-on comes the identity signal transmission, otherwise one of those many Coast Guard or Navy planes or choppers is supposed to investigate.
The next surprise is that on departing Colombo, the tug & tow combo gave their destination as "Cochin", but records available online do not show them as having visited Cochin Port. Certainly, it is possible that they did not enter the port, and simply steamed past slowly or they may have even stopped for stores and supplies-but then, did they report themselves to the Maritime authorities? This information is not available on the Cochin Port Trust website anymore.
Likewise, there is no report of any such report being made while passing Mangalore or Mormugao, the other two big ports en route. The Mumbai Port Trust website, likewise, does not show anything. It is likely, however, that they may have made their reports to these ports as they steamed past, and this information is simply not updated in the public domain, unlike in the rest of the world.
Here's what the existing rules, circulars and notices say. The last one issued by the DG (Directorate General) of Shipping on the subject of tugs and tows in Indian territorial waters is dated-it goes back to 1974. The world has changed since then, but our authorities have not bothered to update things, which, very simply, would require any ship under tow as well as the towing vessel to jointly and separately report to the coastal state, in this case India, in whose territorial waters they are entering.
All that is needed is a simple "Notice to Mariners", to start with, which instructs all special category ships entering Indian territorial waters to report in to the authorities, and then follow instructions, or stay clear. Something like this is done, for example, when testing rockets and missiles, even over international waters-and people on ships follow these notices and rules. It is as simple as that. It is done all the time.
Here are a few related links:
Yes, all vessels are entitled to the right of free and innocent passage through territorial waters. Submarines have to do so on the surface, warships of other countries have certain protocol, nuclear ships and merchant ships carrying certain types of cargo have to follow certain specific guidelines. That is what it has been like for decades, and nobody is challenging that, especially if the foreign ships are "seaworthy".
However, in this case, the ship under tow is not seaworthy. And there, the freedom of the seas and rights of innocent passage through our territorial waters come to a grinding halt.
The DG Shipping has to answer, in the first instance, why this has not been done all these years. Everything else will follow.
(Veeresh Malik is a qualified mariner and writer. He is also consulting editor with Sailor Today).
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India wants an explanation from the State Bank of India on the huge profit erosion in the March quarter, while it turns a blind eye to complicity of its members in cases of financial indiscipline
"SBI faces queries from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India", read the headline in a newspaper a couple of days ago. The news report went on to say that "Taking a strong note of the SBI's huge profit erosion for the March quarter, due to a rise in the provisions, the president of the accounting regulator ICAI on Friday said it will ask the country's largest bank to explain the reasons for earmarking the higher provisions for bad loans." Does this make any sense?
ICAI, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, which ought to be the regulator for chartered accountants and auditors, has chosen to put its foot in its mouth, and it should explain under which provisions of either the Chartered Accountants Act or the Banking Act it is authorised to raise queries of this nature with any bank in the country, and in this case the largest one at that.
There already exists another regulator, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which is empowered under the RBI Act to regulate, direct and question the banking sector in India, as well as the statutory and branch auditors and chartered accountant directors that are appointed on the boards of banks. Additionally, the appointment of the chairman and managing director for public sector banks, as well as the other banks, requires its nod.
Frankly, the ICAI has put its foot in its mouth. It has no jurisdiction over the banks at all. Even morally, it has no business whatsoever to raise questions about the State Bank of India (SBI) and its accounting now, when it has miserably failed in acting in another matter of the Global Trust Bank, where the blacklisted auditor firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), was reinstated on the RBI panel after the deputy governor retired, ostensibly with the ICAI's active connivance. The PwC's partner was the chairman of ICAI's Ethics Committee, now charged in the Satyam fraud!
Bad loans and non-performing assets simply do not occur overnight. They incubate over the years, when all signs of incipient or impending illness are winked at, at all levels. The provisioning is carried out at the highest levels going right up to the board of directors, which includes chartered accountants.
The banking sector has a plethora of checks and balances, like periodical submission of stock and receivable statements, reviews at each renewal, internal inspection and stock audit by chartered accountants, and more. If, after all this, the advance turns bad, it goes to prove that there has been definite failure of monitoring and reporting and that it was winked at, at the top too.
The cash-for-loans scam had the active involvement of a director who was a chartered accountant. The auditors are additionally required to submit a detailed Long Form Audit Report (LFAR), aptly renamed "Lafda Report" in Mumbai lingo. How the loans got past all these scrutinizes, at various stages, over the years, needs to be specifically inquired into. The auditors need to clarify whether they have reported on SBI and ICICI Bank exceeding the lending limits to RIL, BHEL and ONGC.
The ICAI ought to issue notices to its members, chartered accountant bank directors, statutory and branch auditors, inspection and stock auditors, those who prepare project reports and those who arrange loans, each of whom is guilty at some point in time, and not the banks who are answerable to the RBI, their regulator.
It has now been proved by these massive provisions being made recently that banks in India have been hiding huge losses on account of non-performing assets (NPAs) year after year. Why they were not provided for in earlier years needs to be explained also by the earlier auditors, in particular, who are equally guilty of dereliction of duty and passive connivance.
SBI's chairman and managing director Pratip Chaudhuri, Bank of India's Alok Misra, Bank of Baroda's AK Khandewal blowing the whistle has reportedly not been appreciated by the banking regulator. Deputy governor KC Chakrabarty, himself a former chairman and managing director of a public sector bank, has indeed been candid in his observation that financial reporting should not be "as per the minds of bank chairmen, when chairman changes, profits tend to fall. Things should not turn topsy-turvy if bank chairman changes." That bank auditors are hand in glove with the chairman and managing director is the cause of scams, cash-against-loans, corrupt percentage practices, financial jugglery, political pulls and pressures, as has been the case with the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank.
While the justice system in the US has been swift, prompt and unsparing, like Arthur Andersen paying for the Enron mess, the auditors Ernst & Young being held more responsible for the collapse of Lehman Brothers than the bank's management, and PwC USA being ordered to pay millions in the Satyam affair, our regulators, whether it is the Securities and Exchange Board of India, the RBI or the ICAI, are still mulling over whether each has a cause for action under the law in the Satyam saga.
By questioning SBI and not the chartered accountants involved, the accounting regulator ICAI has turned itself into a laughing stock.
(Nagesh Kini, formerly a practicing chartered accountant-RBI empanelled bank auditor, is now an activist.)
Did the container ship being towed to the Alang junk yard have permission to sail so close to the coast and sensitive Bombay High oil installation? Who plotted her course? And how come nobody interrupted her voyage
There is now a new landmark off the coast in Bandra, in suburban Mumbai, that joins another outside the Otters Club there, and the city should consider itself lucky that it did not float onto the signature Bandra-Worli Sea Link. It is the MV Wisdom, a 26-year-old container ship, which in the course of its lifecycle has been blessed with 14 name changes, and nobody knows how many owners.
As a matter of fact, the real beneficiary owner of the ship is still not known, at least not officially. Who the real owners and financiers of this ship are will, ofcourse, be known to all and sundry in the by-lanes and backstreets of Mumbai's Ballard Estate. This is the kind of published information, incidentally, which can cause the untimely demise of journalists; or others too, as we have seen recently again. So we stay out of that aspect, though it is certainly important, especially in this day and age of scams linked to stolen assets, hidden in tax havens, appearing in other industries like international sports events, offshore oil exploration, and telecom. This article tries to answer some of the simpler questions.
The first simple question that arises is, what was this rust-bucket, junk, unseaworthy vessel doing so close to Mumbai in the first place. The next question is, who plotted courses so far inland from what the actual course on a voyage from Colombo to Alang should have been. And, certainly, why was she inland of the oil rigs and security establishments in and around Bombay High? Mariners cannot even begin to think of the damage she would have caused if she had gone adrift near Bombay High.
MV Wisdom started life in faraway Hamburg, back in 1984-85, as the container ship Olandia. She bounced around the world with a variety of names, flags and despondent owners as well as charterers. These names often saw a repeat of the name Olandia, but also included Ocean Spirit, Contship Canada, City of Leeds, Oocl Pudong, Vietnam Star, Moringia, India Star, QC Wisdom and finally, Wisdom. Through all this, she bore a constant IMO (International Maritime Organisation) number - 8417558. As a small container ship, logging around 700 TEU, she would eventually see service as a feeder and an uneconomical one at that. Scrapping, therefore, would be a natural outcome.
Rule paramount which is drilled into our heads right in the beginning of our training is: All seaworthy merchant ships have a right of innocent passage through non-inland waters worldwide. However, a ship headed for scrapping, either under her own power or tow, does not come close to land or coast, as far as possible, for multiple reasons. If she does, then she needs to inform the authorities, who will then decide if she is to be provided with what is known as "the right to innocent passage" guaranteed to all seaworthy ships of all nations. Because a ship headed for scrapping is not seaworthy. And if a national authority wishes to, it can certainly deny her the right of innocent passage through her territorial waters, till a point where she has to enter the territorial waters for scrapping, or with precautions to prevent exactly what happened with the Wisdom.
In other words, the Wisdom should simply have stayed far away from India's territorial waters, until she was right off Alang, where she was reportedly destined for, and then made an entry in as direct and straight a course as possible. That is what her entry permissions into India should have stated in the first case.
The first convention that the MV Wisdom broke is that her tug and she entered India's territorial waters knowingly, and consciously, despite being very unseaworthy. We need to know and find out if she sought the required permissions to do so, or just barged right in, and then meandered close to Bandra, subsequently. A tug tow breaking in the monsoons, especially when towing an empty unmanned dead ship with high windage, is not something the authorities should have permitted right off Mumbai. One can, therefore, only presume that she was right off our coast, by some reports just four miles off, without any permissions or clearances. It would have to be total deliberate criminal negligence if permissions were given to this movement, in the way described, with just one tug that seemingly gave up after the towing arrangement snapped.
If she was in any other country, the authorities would have insisted that she had backup arrangements, at least two tugs for the tow and a third one on standby, and very regular monitoring of the situation.
Now, a dead ship under tow is not some sort of high-speed boat, it is more like a very slow combo chugging and struggling along at a speed not exceeding 3-4 knots (about 6-8 kmph), at best, if not even slower. In this sort of weather it would have taken more than a few days just to cross Mumbai harbour, assuming she came close to the coast past Goa, and then along the Raigad/Kolaba coast. She would have been picked up on every small and large shore radar screen, every naval and coast-guard ship, every offshore supply vessel on duty in and around the Bombay High platforms, and even the radars on the platforms and rigs. Most of all, despite the heavy seas and monsoons, she would have been visible to the naked eye from more than a dozen light-houses along the coast, including assorted naval batteries.
In addition, every other ship underway in and around the area would have picked her up on their radar screens, and stayed miles away. Any ship at anchor that this combo came within miles of would either raise anchor and flee, or raise a strong protest on the radio to the tug as well as the port authorities. As seafarers, we know how unpredictable and dangerous such derelicts under tow can be, and it is just not worth it being anywhere near them. Anywhere would mean that if I was on another ship, I would keep a very safe distance, which means steer at least five miles clear distance away, regardless, even more if I was a tanker or other kind of big ship.
Every one of them would have seen a double-blip on their screens. Any one of them could have challenged the tug-ship tow on simple VHF radio, and asked them to move further from shore, as well as establish identity. Every one of them could have filed a report with the many radio and marine stations all along the coast, of a tug and tow operating too close to the coast and representing a possible hazard. It is likely that some did, but whether they did or not is unknown; and even if they did, what happened next would be unknown. Something similar happens when un-roadworthy trucks are winked past on our roads, to give you an idea of what really may have happened, since there is no other logical reason why nobody seems to be aware of what was happening till this 13,000 tonner landed up aiming for the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.
The grapevine is, with hindsight, that this was a deliberate attempt to push a ship on to the Sea Link. Grapevine is seldom reliable and it does seem far-fetched, but it is an angle that will need to be investigated. If those who are investigating can find the real owners, that is.
The bigger issue, however, is that the Indian coast is rapidly becoming a dump yard for the junks and overage ships. And the Wisdom is just another example of this malaise; the solution to which has been debated and written about repeatedly, but never implemented, for a variety of reasons.
For all the coastline we have, our authorities have simply been unable to put up a simple Vessel Tracking System (VTS) along the coast, and appear to be nowhere near to doing so either. The bigger issue that the Wisdom brings out with shocking precision is simply that despite all the fuss after the 26/11 attacks by boat from Karachi, our coastline is as open as it was. Never mind small fishing boats, huge ships like the Wisdom can sail through, without being stopped or challenged. Think about it.
And if you challenge this too much, then you are in danger of meeting the same fate as other journalists who dig too deep, into matters pertaining to anything which might upset the status quo, of what really happens in offshore India. Or, being called "anti-national", as this writer has been, lately.
(Veeresh Malik is a qualified mariner and writer. He is also consulting editor with "Sailor Today".)