Legal Loopholes Affect Wreckage Disposal Of Sunken Ship Black Rose
One year ago, the Paradeep coast was laced with grease, hordes of oil-smeared dead fish were continuously being washed ashore, nearby mangrove forest was chocking in oil spill and the livelihood of fishermen had been hanging in balance for about two months following a bulk cargo vessel MV Black Rose of Mongolian flagship, which had 23.847 metric tonnes of iron ore loaded from Paradeep Port, sunk in the port limits on September 9, 2009.
During the sinking of the vessel the Paradeep Port authorities had responded promptly and saved lives of 26 crew members, one crew member chief engineer of the vessel Mr Ilyuschenko Oleksander could not be traced during the rescue operation. Later the search with help of private divers recovered the dead body of the chief engineer Mr Oleksander from the cabin of the capsized vessel on September 18. After performing the legal formalities the corpse was handed over to the deceased’s family hailing from Ukraine.
After the incident environmentalists across the country boomed the threat of sea water pollution due to the fuel oil and lubricants stored in the vessel. The provision of the Major Port Trust Act and The Merchant Shipping Act 1958 and convention of maritime transport envisage that the vessel owner to salvage the oil and wreckage of the capsized ship. Ironically, the vessel owner put away from the responsibility after the incident rather requested Paradeep Port authorities to undertake these jobs as consequence. The salvage of the oil was undertaken by the Paradeep Port Trust and successfully retrieved the oil stored in the ship at the end of October 2009 engaging a Florida-based company Resolve Marine Group and sorted out the grievances of the environmentalists.
Interestingly, after passing of one year, the wreckage of the ship was still lying at the accident site and lukewarm effort has been made to remove the wreckage of the capsized ship, as the Paradeep Port Trust has shown no interest in the work and the shipowner is still untraceable. A number of cases are still pending in high courts, and international forums. Even Odisha government has ordered for a crime branch investigation which is yet to complete its investigation. Battling to obtain the legal sanction to sue the errant shipowner, its stevedoring agent and port officials involved in the incident, the investigation team has recently sought Interpol assistance to nab the shipowner.
Meanwhile, Government of India constituted a high-level committee to inquire the incident headed by captain PVK Mohan, chairman, National Shipping Board, who ostensibly found there was no valid insurance coverage. The owner submitted forged insurance documents for anchoring the ship in Paradeep Port.
As per the international maritime conventions, when an accident occurs in the seas, the laws of the flag state are used to press compensation and wreckage disposal, flying flags of the convenience is an extremely popular practice of registering merchant ship where the shipowner is governed by the stringent laws and standards of the registering country, and would be sued there. The shipowner is allowed the freedom to choose the flag that best suits him.
The ill-fated ship Black Rose carried Mongolian flags of convenience, it lacked the P and I insurance covers liabilities like injury and damage cause to crew and machinery. So, the precedence prevails that the state needs to file criminal charges against shipowner and stevedoring agent. According to the state laws, in this Black Rose case, the state government has constituted a crime branch investigation team but it has not yielded any results owing to legal loopholes. The alleged shipowner, being a foreign national, before suing him manifold legal formalities are required to adopt, even External Affairs Ministry’s permission is necessarily needed. So the crime branch suffers in expediting the investigation. Recently the investigation team approached Interpol to trace the alleged shipowner of Black Rose, informed SP Pattnaik, a DSP, Crime Branch, who is leading the investigation.
According to the Merchant Shipping Act, the vessel owner, is liable for damage and compensation and wreckage of the sunken ship with regard to the absence of valid insurance papers. It is evident from the past one year’s proceedings that the Black Rose shipowner and its ship management company Pacmar Shipping PTE Ltd, Singapore, have not responded, and crime branch inquiry has yielded precious little to bring to book the alleged shipping company owing to legal loopholes. The matter is pending in high courts of Odisha and Kolkota. But the question arises: who will come up for wreckage disposal of the capsized ship, which will create environmental hazards for the Paradeep Port in coming days.
By Kahnu Nanda from Jagatsinghpur