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With Citu as captain, ship is sinking

Calcutta, March 11: A ship today began to sink near the Garden Reach dock as a leak in the shell exterior widened overnight into a gaping hole after gangmen owing allegiance to Citu kept the vessel anchored for three days without repairs.

The Bangladesh-bound Indian cargo vessel is carrying 600 tonnes of fly ash.

“Our inspection team managed to board the ship and found that water about six feet deep has already entered the ship,” said Praful Tyal, the chairman and managing director of the Central Inland Water Transport Corporation, the vessel’s owner.

“We repeatedly asked the leaders of the Citu-affiliated union to allow us to move the ship to the Rajabagan dockyard where the repairs could be carried out, but they would not listen,” Tyal said. He leaves for Delhi tomorrow morning to brief the shipping ministry.

Tyal and other corporation officials are to meet chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Monday to seek his intervention in rolling back the Citu-led siege.

Three days ago, contract workers allegedly owing allegiance to Citu put up flags on DV Rapti that had anchored at Garden Reach for customs clearance before leaving for Bangladesh. The workers, about 300 of them, are engaged in a bitter dispute over payment of minimum wages.

On Tuesday afternoon, the crew of DV Rapti noticed water gushing into one of the eight wing tanks (which help maintain the buoyancy) on the port side of the ship. Minutes later, the crew detected a hole at the bottom of the shell — the portion of the ship that stays under water — and raised an alarm.

But Citu workers, who are clamouring for wages — Rs 2,700 each — whether they get work or not, decided to continue their blockade. This evening, an engineering team was finally allowed in for repairs but it expressed its helplessness.

Faiz Ahmed Khan, the general secretary of the Citu-affiliated union, denied that workers had stopped any ship. “They (the corporation) have denied workers legitimate rights…. We have no knowledge about this ship.”

Environmentalists have warned that the surrounding ecology would suffer damage if the ship sinks with its cargo. “The fly ash will cause largescale silting and adversely affect the marine life, especially the fish population,” Deepak Chakraborty, the chief scientist of the state Pollution Control Board, said.

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