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Gas from coal stock kills two in ship

- Tragedy off Haldia, whiff of Carbon Monoxide
The two Chinese crew members, who fell ill after inhaling poisonous gas, in a Tamluk hospital. Picture by Jahangir Badsa

Tamluk, April 22: Two Chinese crew members of a ship carrying non-coking coal from Indonesia died yesterday after allegedly inhaling poisonous gas while examining samples of the cargo that was supposed to be unloaded on to barges at the sandheads about 130km from Haldia port.

Two other crew members accompanying them fell ill and have been admitted to a private hospital in nearby Tamluk. Doctors said they were out of danger.

The ship from Panama — TUO FU 3 — was carrying around 60,000 tonnes of non-coking coal that was meant to be unloaded on to barges and transported through the Hooghly to the NTPC power plant in Farakka in Murshidabad, said Ron Roy, the chief manager of Esskay Shipping, which had been handling the cargo.

The two crew members who died have been identified as A.N. Bai Bong, 46, and Bing Sing Bao, 35. The two who fell ill are Sun Liuhua, 35 and Yang Zhigang, 36.

Sun Liuhua, who claimed he was an “officer”, said from his hospital bed in broken English: “Before unloading, the cargo is examined by us. Four of us had gone down into the cargo hold to collect samples of the coal. We were suddenly hit by a pungent smell and lost consciousness.”

Asked about the possibility of poisonous gas emerging from non-coking coal, an Eastern Coalfields Ltd official said in Asansol: “It appears the gas inhaled by the ship’s crew members was carbon monoxide. When non-coking coal is packed tightly in a closed place, carbon monoxide is produced. This gas can prove lethal. About 15 years ago, two labourers in Ranchi had died after inhaling the gas while unloading non-coking coal from a closed railway wagon.”

Dipankar Bhattacharya, the superintendent of the private hospital where the two Chinese crew members have been admitted, said the sailors’ condition was stable. “We have learnt that the poisoning could be from either methane or carbon monoxide. We will examine them again tomorrow,” Bhattacharya said.

Roy, whose company was handling the cargo, said the family of the two ill crew members had been informed in China. He added that his company was in touch with the Chinese embassy and the families of the dead crew members might come down to Haldia.