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Peril point reminder

Calcutta, Nov. 23: This morning’s collision puts the spotlight back on Hooghly Point, a treacherous 2.5km stretch where the river takes a 90-degree turn, even though a snag in one of the ships seems the immediate cause.

While a section of Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) officials blamed Tiger Spring’s faulty steering wheel, others said the effect of eddies could not be ruled out as the Hooghly meets another river, the Roop Narayan, there. Tides can be strong and unpredictable where rivers merge.

Only experienced pilots of Calcutta Port Trust (CPT), which sends smaller vessels ahead to guide the big cargo ships, are entrusted with the task of navigating this stretch, which has space only for one ship to pass at a time.

Tides are generally uni-directional — going upstream during high tide and downstream during low — but undercurrents in this stretch complicate the problems. “In this area, tides from different directions hit the ship, which is controlled only from the back where the propellers move. As a result, it becomes difficult to manage the ship,” a veteran from the shipping industry said.

Tiger Spring, chartered by Bengal Tiger Line, a German company based out of Singapore, is a relatively large ship by the standards of the Calcutta port. Its capacity is 10,000 tonnes, almost double that of Green Valley, with which it collided.

In the past, another ship, Green Opal, had sunk further upstream from Hooghly Point, hit by a straying barge. The eddies had compounded the barge’s engine problems and caused it to collide.

Old timers said the stretch had always been a problem for navigators, even for the highly trained. The CPT, though, has not made efforts to widen the channel so that more than one ship can pass simultaneously.

Luckily, the ships involved in today’s mishap are not stuck at the problem point after the collision. Otherwise, the entire route could have got blocked.

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