Special Report: KPT responsible for worst impending environmental disaster
By Razia Sultana
KARACHI: A detailed investigation reveals how the KPT is squarely responsible for the worst potential environmental disaster in the country’s history. This is what happened.
MV Tasman Spirit entered Karachi harbor on July 27 at 1pm under a PNSC charter carrying 67,000 tons of crude oil. It ran aground in the harbor channel, which is where the change of command takes place or where the KPT pilot takes over from the vessels pilot and navigates the vessel through the channel to the berth. The tanker is 235 meters long and its depth is 11.8 meters. At the time the tanker entered the channel winds were gusting at 40-45 knots an hour and the sea swell was up to 4 meters high. High tide was at 10:33am and its height was 2.8 meters, low tide was at 4:40pm and its height was 1.5 meters.
Currently, the Sanctioned Depth of the channel is 12.2 meters for oil tankers. As the difference between the depth of the tanker and the internationally sanctioned depth is only 0.4 meters, big ships like oil tankers have to rely on high tides to navigate the channel. The Sanctioned Depth is maintained by regular dredging of the channel which the KPT claimed to have done. Indeed it has on occasion claimed the successful navigation of deep vessels through the channel. However, the fact is that at all times these have been done only in high tide. No vessel has been brought in other than at high tide which means that the channel is only open twice in a period of 24 hours. The other variable is the season. In the summer months, the swell is much higher than in winter and cannot be projected as dredging efficiency.
The incident happened near the break water where the channel bends. Big tankers always cone in to the channel at high tide so that they have space to maneuver. The maximum time allowed a big ship is one and a half hours in to the high tide. But in this case the tanker was brought in two and a half hours later, in the middle of the ebb tide, and as a result there was a loss of 0.7 meters in depth. However, despite the fact that there was a height of 2.1 meters plus 0.4 meters available, the tanker ran aground in the main channel. This means that either the channel had not been dredged and there were patches that had not been cleared and that the KPT pilot had not been informed of this situation or if he had and the soundings were correct then the buoys had not been positioned in the proper place.
Dredging has been an issue for a long time. In 1994 the harbor was dredged at a cost of US$2.3 million. The Chairman of the sub-committee on dredging at that time was Admiral Mansoor ul Haq. In 1996 this was replayed by Admiral Akhtar who contracted with Tide Waters, an Iranian firm, to dredge the channel. At the present time KPT has a flotilla of 6 dredgers with a capacity of 2 million cubic meters per year. But despite having this in hand, they have not been able to maintain the channels sanctioned depth. Yet no inquiry has even been ordered in to the back logs which have resulted in capital dredging, which is usually done when building new berths. However, in the case of the KPT this has been done even where a flotilla is available. Dredging costs have been as high as US$4.50 per cubic meter.
Since the KPT came in to existence in 1887 this is its biggest disaster. The KPT is run by non professional staff, its operations are in the hands of Admirals and other senior naval officers who hold ‘dining out degrees’ in important subjects like engineering and have no experience of handling disasters at sea. The entire top cadre of the KPT has not been promoted within the Navy but posted to the KPT, given promotions (in some cases double promotions) and will retire with great benefits and more plots. Plots have been allocated to them on the reclaimed land along Mai Kolachi expressway, once the home of a mangrove forest and pink flamingoes. The inability of these officers to manage this crisis is obvious, despite tall claims made by Mr. Kafeel Ahmed, Sr. PRP, KPT, to the contrary.
The KPT sent in 4 strong tugs to push the tanker out as soon as it ran aground. But when it did not budge they called in for two additional tugs from the Navy. The tanker was badly stuck and they could not move it. KPT needed to get more tugs and it would have taken two days for tugs to get to Karachi from Dubai. However, the first tug arrived on the 5th day and the second on the 6th day. By this time the tanker was already leaking oil. As the oil leaks there is an ingress of water which makes the tanker heavier and makes it sink deeper. It was therefore imperative that the oil be off loaded from the tanker. The Navy has two tankers: Maowin with a capacity of 15,000 tons and Nasar with an even greater capacity. But neither of these was used. Perhaps the Navy was not willing to risk putting one of there vessels in the channel. Eventually Fair Julie, with a capacity of 8,000 tons arrived from Dubai, but it will taken Fair Julie 16 days to off load the oil from the tanker.
In the meanwhile the tanker has breeched and cracks have appeared in it. The oil has been steadily leaking out and there is an environmental disaster as Karachi’s beaches, seas and marine life are coated with oil and are being slowly killed.
Despite all claims by the Chairman KPT and his trusted PRO, neither the Navy nor KPT have any arrangement for salvage. There are currently seven ships lying in the outer channel, outside the breakwater. We are lucky that this ship is just outside the inner channel. If it had been stuck there the channel would have been blocked until international salvage teams could have removed it at phenomenal cost. It would have blocked all trade in and out of Karachi which is approximately 67% of the entire trade of the country.