Midnapore, April 13: Six sailors are feared drowned after a Malaysian cargo vessel bound for Calcutta with 18 crew members sank about 300 km from the Haldia port this afternoon.
Till late evening, a dozen seamen had been rescued by the coast guard and a Korean vessel that was in the vicinity.
Genius Star, which was about 96 metres in length, had set sail from Malaysia on April 6 with 6,000 tonnes of logs.
Around 8.30 this morning, the captain noticed a leak in the hull through which water was rushing in. The crew mounted a desperate mission to plug the leak, but all efforts failed.
Around 9 am, the captain radioed an SOS to the coast guard at Haldia. “It was clear to us that the vessel was in big trouble. We swung into action, but the ship was some distance from here and there was little we could do immediately, apart from asking other vessels on the route to help,” said R.K. Wadhwa, a coast guard commandant.
But no other ship was nearby. Coast guard vessel Varha left Haldia soon after, as did Razia Sultana from Paradip, about 300 km southeast of Haldia. An aircraft was also pressed into action.
Around 11, the pilot reported to the coast guard base that part of Genius Star was already under water. “It seems that the vessel is sinking fast,” he said over radio.
With little time left, the coast guard located Korean merchant vessel MV Tonghai, about 50 km from the sinking ship. “We requested the Korean vessel to rush to the aid of the Malaysian ship and try and rescue its crew members,” said Wadhwa.
At 12.30 pm, the pilot of the coast guard plane circling the region radioed a message saying that the ship could no longer be seen. “We knew then that the worst had happened and the ship had sunk,” Wadhwa said.
About two hours later, the Korean vessel sent a message to the coast guard saying that five Genius Star crew members had been pulled out. There was no trace of the rest.
More vessels were employed in the search-and-save operation, which continued into the evening. Seven sailors were saved in the high sea under searchlights.
Inspector-general of police, law and order, Chayan Mukherjee confirmed in Calcutta that Genius Star had sunk and 12 crew members were rescued. “We are constantly monitoring the situation,” he said.
Since 2000, half a dozen ships have sunk off the Haldia port.