Calcutta, June 26: Alarmed at last Friday’s incident in which a barge rammed into the belly of the Howrah bridge causing damage, the Calcutta Port Trust will open talks with several regulatory authorities tomorrow to ensure such mishaps do not recur.
“Howrah bridge is a heritage property and its protection is the responsibility of all,” port chairman A.K. Chanda said.
The port will ask other regulators like the Inland Waterways Authority of India, Mercantile Marine Department and the state transport department to stop plying of unlicensed vessels and to keep vigil on those trying to pass under the bridge during high tide, officials said.
The mast of inland vessel MV Moni hit and got stuck in the underside of the bridge when the tide was high. It was also sailing the wrong course.
Chanda said regulators would have to come together to monitor the movement of vessels. “We have to find a mechanism,” he said, adding that meetings would be held with barge operators, too.
“We will provide full assistance to the port if they want to implement rules and regulations,” said a senior official of the waterways authority.
Barge operators denied any unauthorised vessels were operating in Hooghly. “All the barges have licences and they follow the regulations. Friday’s accident was rare,” said Sukhendu Roy Chowdhury, the president of the Barge Owners’ Association.
“It was the fault of the master who should have known the level of water,” he said.
M.S. Barua, the master, has been arrested and the port has filed a complaint against the company, M.J.S. Water Transport, seeking compensation.
The multi-agency survey of the Howrah bridge will start tomorrow to assess the damage. However, the authorities are unable to say when repairs will start. “We have to go through the engineering drawings of the bridge. It is a very complicated process and will take some time,” a port official said.
The port has already said it would also seek assistance from Rendel Palmer and Tritton, the British company which designed the bridge in 1937. It was built by Braithwaite Burn & Jessop, which still has the contract for maintaining it.
Initially, the damage was estimated at Rs 1.5 crore but now officials said it could be higher by a few crores.