Effort on to free sailors: Vasan

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Union shipping minister G.K. Vasan said the government is making discreet moves to bring back sailors being held hostage by the Somali pirates. “In coordination with defence and external affairs ministries, we are taking continuous steps to free the sailors,” he said, after inaugurating the Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS) at Chennai Port Trust (CPT) here on Friday.

According to Mr Vasan, it was only because of positive moves the government was able to bring back more than 230 sailors with good health. “Still about 35 to 40 Indian sailors are held hostage by Somali pirates. It is our duty to see that the government brings them back safely and sends them home,” he added.

On the recent spate of accidents involving ships along the Indian coast, Mr Vasan said the ministry has issued guidelines regarding the distance a ship should maintain from the fishing vessels. While systems like VTMS will help avoid collision of boats and ships, he said transponders would be given to fishing vessels to help fishermen communicate with the port and other ships.

Noting that Sethusamudram shipping canal project is important for the growth of the whole country and not just Tamil Nadu, Mr Vasan said the expert committee has submitted its report to the Supreme Court on the Central government’s recommendation of an alternate route (4A).

The government will read it fully and give its views to the apex court, he added. Earlier, the minister said the installation of VTMS is part of the ongoing port modernisation plans across the country that includes mechanisation of cargo handling.

“We also want to upgrade facilities at port hospitals and schools,” he said after making a surprise visit to the hospital located on CPT premises.

Surveillance radar for Ennore

While Chennai is the first port to get a vessel traffic management system (VTMS) in Tamil Nadu, Ennore and Thoothukudi ports will soon instal this system that helps augment operations and security of ports and the coastal areas.

Many ports in the country, including Mumbai, Goa, New Mangalore and Kochi already have the latest surveillance radars. Mr B.V. Kulkarni, a VTMS advisor, said the setting up of a surveillance system has already begun at Thoothukudi and it would be ready by next year. He added that Ennore
port would also finalise a tender to instal VTMS soon.

“Initially, there were plans to share the facility with Chennai Port Trust because Ennore and Chennai ports are just 20 kilometres away. But due to practical difficulties, we have decided to instal a separate surveillance system for us,” Ennore Port Limited CMD S. Velumani told DC.

A detailed project report is in the approval stage and the tender for the about Rs9 crore-worth facility would soon be finalised. While there is not much traffic at Ennore port, where ships can travel only one way at a time, Mr Velumani said, the shipping ministry is keen on ports having this facility to monitor the sea for a 50-km radius.

“VTMS will help observe the vessel movement on the sea. When ships don’t respond to our calls, then we will alert the Navy and Coast Guard,” said Mr Kulkarni, who added that the radar system would provide information on various meteorological and hydrological parameters that could be useful for the met department.

VTMS can also detect oil spillage. “The software for detecting oil spillage alone costs about Rs1 crore. We have given a provision to use the software at Chennai whenever necessary,” said Mr Kulkarni about this new technology in India.

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