Heng Tong 77: Shipping ministry draws flak for inordinate delay in salvage operation

July 27, 2021

KARACHI: The run aground cargo ship — Heng Tong 77 — cannot be salvaged before August 15 at Karachi’s Clifton beach, Adviser on Maritime Affairs Mehmood Moulvi revealed on Monday,...

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KARACHI: The run aground cargo ship — Heng Tong 77 — cannot be salvaged before August 15 at Karachi’s Clifton beach, Adviser on Maritime Affairs Mehmood Moulvi revealed on Monday, drawing flak from shipping services, and shipping salvaging experts.

Speaking during a press conference flanked by the Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi, the Adviser on Maritime Affairs, Mehmood Moulvi said that relevant authorities would have to decant 0.125 million litres of diesel from the ship first before starting a salvage operation.

The experts however were of the view that the oil decantation exercise would only take 8-10 hours and there was no need to delay the salvage operation for 20 days. In addition, the ship owners said they contracted a salvaging company which had sent the crew who were waiting for KPT’s permission to start an operation.

They expressed surprise over the inordinate delay and asked that the tugs owned by the salvaging company had arrived on Sunday, KPT had got nothing to do with the tugs so why were they delaying it. “It is the decision of the salvaging company,” said owners of ship TNI Club.

To a question regarding a delay in rescuing the ship, the SAPM, Zaidi, said that the port remained closed during the Eid holidays because of which the work was halted, adding that by the time the rescue team reached near the ship to rescue it, water had already entered the vessel. He further said that the ship’s engine was very weak to make it functioning.

Narrating the ordeal, the captain of the cargo vessel, Umar, told “Geo News”, “I made the SOS call on July 20 when the chain of one of the ship’s anchors snapped and sank into the sea. I requested the authorities to provide us a berth in an emergency as it was very difficult for me to control the vessel with only one anchor. Later, the second anchor also snapped from the ship at 1:15am on the night between July 20 and 21,” adding that he made the SOS call on 1:20am.

The captain said that the authorities at Port Qasim and Manora were also hearing the emergency call but the Menorah Control Tower did not provide them any help. The captain claimed, “I was informed that the officers are in an important meeting,” adding that all the communication data was saved with them.

The Geo News has obtained the audio recording of the conversation between the captain and the control tower. In the audiotape, the captain can be heard seeking help from the authorities. “MV Heng Tong is contacting the Muhammad Bin Qasim port’s control on channel 16,” the captain sent the message thrice.

The authorities asked the captain to contact channel 10. The captain did not get any response when he contacted channel 10. After a few minutes, the captain decided to seek help from Karachi’s Manora control and said, “Our ship is heading towards the shore and it may be grounded.” The captain again asked,“ Have you heard my message?” “Sorry we cannot help you,” the control tower replied, as per the recording.

Meanwhile, the shipping sources said an operation to salvage the ship has not started yet for the want of approval from KPT. The sources feared that the ship might get stuck deeper into the sand if the tugboats were not given permission to operate.

The KPT sources said that the vessel’s owners had lodged an insurance claim which could run in millions of dollars. The Heng Tong 77, carrying oil, was heading to Istanbul from China en route Karachi, when it drifted and stranded in shallow waters on Wednesday at Karachi coast, authorities said, adding that the incident raised concerns as the oil in the vessel could spill and cause polluting the environment. The 98 meters long and 20 meters wide cargo ship, Heng Tong 77, has a capacity of 36,000 deadweight tonnage.

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