Coast Guard rescues 22 from merchant vessel that caught fire

Coast Guard rescue Smoke billowing from the fire on the SSL Kolkata on Thursday | ANI

A domestic merchant vessel, MV SSL Kolkata, caught fire on Wednesday with 22 crew members on board.

All the crew members of the vessel have been rescued by the Indian Coast Guard in a rescue operation by the ship Rajkiran.

The vessel caught fire on Wednesday night and the rescue team reached the area on Thursday morning to save crew members who were in danger. Rajkiran arrived from Haldia.

According to a defence ministry spokesperson, the fire was of such intensity that even the Navy's air assets (Sea King helicopters) from Vishakapatnam had to be launched on Thursday morning. In coordination with the Coast Guard, they rescued the team of 22 crew members of the vessel.

“One Sea King 42C helicopter and one Dornier aircraft were launched from Vishakapatnam to assist in search and rescue,” said a senior officer of the Eastern Naval Command.

“The Sea King is especially useful in situations where surface vessels cannot approach closer to the distressed vessels for reasons of their own safety,” said the official.

The Dornier is used for sighting the distressed vessels. The Coast Guard team on Rajkiran, however, was successful in rescuing men from the vessel on its own.

On Thursday morning, around 6.30am, after having been airborne for some time, a message came in that the distressed vessel had been located and the search and rescue operations were intensified. It was then felt that the operations would be over by the time the Sea King helicopter reached the area. The Sea Kings were moved to Vishakapatnam.

But the Navy later changed the decision and put the Sea King helicopter at Bhubaneswar, awaiting further instruction from the Eastern Naval Command.

According to initial investigation, the fire on the ship spread rapidly because of the rough seas and strong winds. Around seventy per cent of the vessel was listing into the water.

There was an explosion on Wednesday night before fire was seen billowing out of the ship. The rescue operation has not ended completely and the vessel is currently near the Kolkata port.

Officials said a high-level inquiry has been ordered to find out the reason behind the fire.