Bangalore: A month after India’s maritime regulator set an age restriction of 25 years for foreign ships entering the country’s waters, citing safety considerations and evoking a strong response from foreign shipping lines that termed the move discriminatory, an Indian container ship caught fire on 24 May, lending credence to the claims of the foreign firms.
OEL Aishwarya, owned by Orient Express Lines Ltd, a part of the Transworld Group, caught fire on its journey from Colombo to Chennai, killing second officer Babu Thomas.
The ship was 26 years old.
The foreign lines termed the regulator’s new rule discriminatory because it does not apply to ships registered in India.
A foreign-registered container ship at Mumbai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port.?The regulator had set an age limit of 25 years for all cargo vessels calling at Indian ports, but exempted?ships registered in?India (Photo by: Ashesh Shah / Mint)
The directorate general of shipping, in a circular dated 24 April, set an age limit of 25 years for all cargo vessels calling at Indian ports, except gas carriers, dredgers and oil or product tankers, to ensure safety.
The regulator had decided to tighten the rules after a spate of accidents over the past three years showed a significant correlation between the age of ships and breakdowns.
However, following intense lobbying by local shipowners, the regulator exempted ships registered in India through a circular issued on 13 May.
“Indian ships are registered and granted licences to operate after inspection and a survey on sea and cargo worthiness by the classification society, the Indian Register of Shipping, or IRS,” explained an official with the directorate general of shipping, offering a reason for the exemption. He did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. OEL Aishwarya had gone through the IRS survey process.
Classification societies set technical rules on safety and protection of ships, confirm that designs and calculations meet these rules, survey ships and structures during construction and commissioning, and periodically survey vessels to ensure that they continue to meet the requirements of the International Maritime Organization, the global maritime regulator.
“The flag of the ship (whether foreign- or Indian-registered) should not be the criteria when safety is involved,” said an official at Foreign Owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association, a body representing foreign shipowners operating in India. He did not want to be named.
“There are many old Indian- registered ships that should be banned from operating as they are not safe. Banning only foreign registered ships from operating in Indian waters will not serve the purpose for which the rule is intended,” he added.
Local laws give preference to Indian-registered ships for operating on the country’s coast. Foreign-registered ships can be hired to operate alongthe coast only if there is a shortage of Indian ships, and with the approval of the maritime regulator.
OEL Aishwarya has arrived at Chennai and authorities are inspecting the ship.
“At this moment, we cannot comment on the incident because investigations are still on,” said Danny D’Souza, manager, safety quality department, at Orient Express Lines.