Salvage Operations Under Way for SSL Kolkata
The fire-damaged container feeder SSL Kolkata remains aground about 7.5 nm off the Sundarbans, a vast mangrove forest on the border between India and Bangladesh. The Kolkata suffered an explosion and fire on June 13, and her crew abandoned ship shortly therefter. She drifted for several days in the Bay of Bengal, and despite a daring Indian Navy operation to deploy her anchors, she ran aground on a soft, muddy bottom at 21' 26.5" N 088' 46.4" E.
According to the container ship's operator, Shreyas Shipping and Logistics, the standby vessel Lewek Altair reported additional explosions aboard the Kolkata after the grounding. The Times of India reports that she was carrying containers of magnesium, in addition to other cargo, and the reactive metal caused regular explosions as it came into contact with salt water. The vessel has developed cracking amidships, according to local media, and has taken on a starboard list, with water up to the main deck level.
A salvage team led by Smit Salvage is focusing its efforts on bunker and cargo removal, and Smit has dispatched the crane vessel Smit Borneo to aid in the operation. The Borneo is transiting from Singapore, and will not arrive until after July 17, according to local reports. Spill response contractor Le Floch is on scene to provide pollution abatement if required, but Indian officials report that no signs of a spill have been spotted so far.
The Kolkata is believed to have about 200-400 tonnes of fuel on board, raising concerns about damage to the Sundarbans' sensitive environment in the event of a spill. The region is the world's largest coastal mangrove forest, and it is home to multiple endangered species like the Bengal tiger and the northern river terrapin. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.