Kuldeep Calls Upon Prime Minister Modi to Retain MV Atal and MV Ashoka with A&N Administration

Port Blair, March 5: Shri Kuldeep Rai Sharma, Member of Parliament, A&N Islands has requested the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India not to transfer two new mainland bound 1200 passenger cum 1000 tonnes cargo ships namely MV Atal and MV Ashoka to India Navy, which are in final stage of construction at Cochin Shipyard Limited. The MP urged to retain the same under the operational control of A&N Administration for transportation of passengers and cargo between Islands and mainland sectors in the larger interest of the islanders for safe mode of journey on cheaper cost journey fare.

Kuldeep explained that the Andaman and Nicobar Administration in the year 2017 has placed order on the Cochin Shipyard limited for construction of four passenger-cum – cargo vessels for Andaman & Nicobar Administration under the ‘Make in India’ initiative of Government of India as replacement to existing ships of similar categories which have outlived their service life. Two of these vessels are capacity of 500 persons-cum-150 tonne cargo which are for deployment in Inter Island sector and the remaining two ships having a capacity of 1200 persons-cum-1000 tonne cargo namely MV ATAL and MV ASHOKA are for deployment in Island- Mainland sector.

These vessels are in their final stage of construction and are likely to be completed within a period of one year.    These two 1200 passenger cum 1000 tonnes ships MV ATAL and MV ASHOKA being constructed at Cochin Shipyard Limited are the replacement to MV NICOBAR and MV NANCOWRY which were constructed and pressed into service in the year 1991 and 1992 respectively. Both MV NICOBAR and MV NANCOWRY have outlived their service life owing to ageing, deteriorated condition of hull & machineries and more importantly reduced speed and shabby bunks to travel.

Due to the unsafe and unhygienic status of the ship and also lot of time unnecessarily consumed in travel between Port Blair and Mainland Ports of Kolkata, Chennai and Visakhapatnam, the islanders are compelled to travel by flight incurring huge expenditure on tickets when compared to ships..

The Andaman and Nicobar Administration with an intent to provide safe, comfortable and less time consuming journey at much cheaper rate by meeting to the need and aspirations of islanders had decided to build ships for the Island - Mainland sector having state of the art facilities for passengers complying with latest international/national rules and regulations. The local administration kept the Islanders informed of the progress of construction of these two mainland bound ships at various occasions and claimed that the steel built ships being constructed are modern, safe and seaworthy vessel being built on aesthetic concept and pleasant profile with “Safe Return to Port” (SRtP) compliance claiming to be the first of its kind in Asia.

He also said that the population of the Islands mainly comprises of people from various states of India who have either been brought by the government under various settlement and rehabilitation scheme or people who have come to Islands in search of job and livelihood. Such being the case, most of the Islanders have their native place in mainland India  and they are frequently required to perform journey to their native place in mainland to discharge social obligations. 

In absence of specialized medical treatment facilities in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the patients suffering from chronic diseases are required to go to mainland for treatment in the Specialty hospitals. Beside this there are patients referred to Speciality hospitals in mainland for treatment under Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana and Andaman and Nicobar Islands Scheme for health Insurance (ANISHI). As these schemes are applicable to economic weaker section of society, traveling by flight becomes very difficult for them.

There have been numerous instances when carrying patient and attendant by flight to the designated Specialty hospital at mainland has become more expensive than the financial assistance being provided by the government for treatment under the schemes. Also an appreciably large number of students from the Islands are pursuing higher education in various educational institutions in mainland by incurring expenditure on educational fees, boarding and lodging, hence it becomes very difficult for their parents to meet additional expenditure of their children for performing journey by flight. Even the non-entitled government servants  under the Leave Travel Concession (LTC) schemes are compelled to travel by flight with their families to their home town or elsewhere in India by incurring huge expenditure due precarious and slow moving condition of ships being deployed in the Island - Mainland sector.

He also further said in absence of alternate reasonably fast mode of transportation between the Islands and Mainland, the flight operators including the national carrier Air India are taking advantage of the helpless situation of the Islanders.

At present there is only one ship namely MV Swaraj Dweep for commutation of Islanders between Port Blair and Ports at Kolkata Chennai and Visakhapatnam. This ship built in the year 1999 has lived service life of 22 years and is undergoing major refit and repairs owing to her deteriorated structural and machinery condition. As per prevailing shipping norms a well maintained passenger Ship has service life expectancy of around 25 to 30 years. Taking into account the prevailing condition of this ship, she is also apparently on verge of retirement from service. Withdrawal of the ships under-construction namely MV ATAL and MV ASHOKA from the Island- Mainland passenger service sector of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the only available ship MV Swaraj Dweep also nearing her retirement, the passenger ship service in the Island - Mainland sector will completely cease to operate in next two to three years.

As per the DG Shipping scale of manning, each ship is stated to have crew compliment strength of 104, which means these two ships taken together will have to mandatorily  employ 208 seafarers of various categories onboard the ship and considering the onboard engagement tenure of 6 ( six) months for a seafarer, these two ships will have deployment capacity of minimum 416 seafarers onboard during a period of 12 months. Handing over or transferring these two ships to Indian Navy will deprive employment opportunities to atleast 400 odd qualified unemployed seafarers of Andaman and Nicobar Islands onboard these two ships who are in possession of Certificate of Competency of various categories issued by DG Shipping.

Justifying his stand, Sharma requested the Prime Minister not to transfer MV ATAL and MV ASHOKA to Indian Navy and keep the same under operational control of A&N Administration for the purpose in which these ships are being constructed.