India's Busiest Ports to Reopen by Next Week

Two ports constituting 40% of India's maritime trade are currently closed due to an accident.

India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh said on August 10 that two of the country's busiest container ports would reopen by next week once a clean-up operation was complete after two cargo ships collided.

A total of 32 ships currently stuck either in port or berthed offshore would begin moving once work was finished to locate and make safe some 200 containers that spilled off one of the stricken vessels, he added.

A shipping trade body earlier warned that the closure of the Jawarhalal Nehru Port and the nearby Mumbai Port could affect business for weeks to come because of the backlog of deliveries since the collision on August 7.

"The short-term impact is that at the moment we have two ports constituting 40% of India's maritime trade closed," said R. Venkates, vice president of the Western India Shippers' Association.

"That's really going to have a cascading effect."

Venkatesh said that some freight carriers had already suspended bookings and a knock-on effect was likely on shipping charges.

The collision between the MSC Chitra and the MV Khalijia-III forced the closure of the busy shipping channel off the coast of India's financial capital because of containers and other debris falling off one of the ships. The MSC Chitra was left listing badly at a sharp 60-degree angle and hundreds of the 1,219 containers it was carrying slipped off the deck and into the water.

Fears have been raised about the impact on marine life and the surrounding coastline because some of the containers were holding hazardous chemicals while diesel oil and fuel were spreading from the ship.

Six coastguard ships and a helicopter were deployed to contain the spill.

Ramesh said "there is no oil spill off the Mumbai coast" but Ashok Chavan, the chief minister of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, said that 400 to 500 tons of oil may have leaked from the MSC Chitra.

"The situation is under control now. I was briefed by coastguard officials that the leakage from where the oil was spilling out from MSC Chitra has been plugged yesterday and no further oil spill has been reported," Chavan added.

Fishing has been suspended off the Mumbai coast, while local people have been warned not to eat locally caught seafood because of contamination fears.

Salvage teams are working to either submerge the containers or tow them to safety. A decision is also expected on whether to right the MSC Chitra or remove its remaining oil into barges, the ministry said.

The MSC Chitra was carrying 2,700 tons of fuel oil and 300 tons of diesel oil. Some 1,200 tons of fuel oil was in the ruptured tanks on the ship's port side.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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