Is Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust a fire disaster waiting to happen?

Aug 15, 2015, 18:44 IST | Ankoor. Anvekar

India's largest container port only has one fire station, liquid flammable cargo occupies a huge area, and the nearest well-equipped hospital is 28 km away at Kamothe in Navi Mumbai

The major blast at China’s Tianjin port, which killed dozens and devastated a number of buildings in the area, raises a question: is India’s biggest container terminal, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), self-sufficient to tackle a similar kind of calamity?

The Indian Oil terminal is one of the many other terminals that store flammable liquid cargo.The Indian Oil terminal is one of the many other terminals that store flammable liquid cargo.

A mid-day investigation has revealed that the port area, which sprawls across more than 2,000 hectares of land, has only one fire station equipped with a staff strength of 51, along with 11 fire engines. Fire officials from JNPT fire station revealed that they have five fire tenders, two water tankers, one foam tender, a multipurpose vehicle, an ambulance and a rescue vehicle to deal with calamities.

This is the only fire station in the port region that is run by JNPT itself.

Liquid cargo
The port region alone houses over 50 liquid bulk storage tanks including those of Bharat Petroleum, Reliance and Indian Oil that are used to store edible oil, engine oil and other petroleum products. These are situated close to villages near the port region.

Sources say that every year, tonnes of liquid cargo are transported through the pipelines spread across the port region.

At present, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) and Indian Oil Corporation have liquid cargo terminals near the port region to handle all grades of liquid cargo.

This liquid cargo is transported to the jetty through pipelines that are 300 meters long and 40.5 meters wide. The present terminal has a capacity to handle 5.5 million tonnes of liquid cargo every year.

No hospital
In case of any big calamity, the nearest well-equipped hospital from the port region is situated 28 km away at Kamothe in Navi Mumbai.

“There is a rural as well as private hospital in Uran. However, they are not equipped to handle any major calamities. The only nearest well-equipped hospital is MGM in Kamothe,” said a JNPT official, requesting anonymity. “Considering the amount of cargo flow, the port region is ill-equipped to tackle a major calamity,” he added.

Further, there are two fire stations, one at Dronagiri and another at ONGC near Uran. However, considering the population of villages and the presence of liquid cargo pipelines around the port region, more such facilities are needed, sources added.

There are 12 small villages situated around JNPT port (within a radius of 10 km) consisting of more than 3,000 families.

Neeraj Bansal, chairman and deputy chairman of JNPT, told mid-day, “The liquid tanks having combustible material across the port region have their own respective fire-fighting systems. Also recently, we had asked concerned agencies to examine whether the fire safety facilities at these tank terminals meet all the safety standards. If there are any shortcomings, we will work on that. However, most of these companies upgrade their systems from time to time so that we don’t have to depend on someone.” When this correspondent visited one of the tank terminals near the port region, security personnel revealed that they would rely on JNPT and neighbouring fire stations in case of any calamity.

On April 15, 1944...

On April 15, 1944...

A 7,142-tonne cargo vessel SS Fort Stikine left England in February. It carried £2 million worth of gold bars, 1,400 tonnes of explosives, sulphur, resin, oil, fish, and 8,700 bales of cotton and on April 15, 1944 it mysteriously caught fire when it was anchored in Victoria Dock. Two explosions followed that spread the fire and debris over two square miles. The twin blasts killed over 1,000 and left 3,000 injured. 1,00,000 tons of shipping was destroyed that was priced over $1 billion while at least 27 other vessels either sank or were damaged in Victoria Dock and the neighbouring Princess Dock. This explosion was so intense that a shred of propeller from this ship landed on a section of the St Xavier’s Boys High School (Dhobi Talao) building! Today, this slice of history is displayed in an enclosure. The vessel was also loaded with gold, and according to old timers, gold flew high up above south Mumbai’s skies, landed in people’s homes and made them rich overnight!

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