Indian Navy in a daring and complex operation on Saturday successfully anchored the ill-fated merchant vessel, SSL Kolkata, off the Sagar Island at the mouth of the Ganges Delta after it was abandoned by its 22 crew members, when it had caught fire on 14 June.

During the operation, the navy used a Sea King helicopter from the Eastern Naval Command to winch down a Marine Commando Officer (MARCO) to ascertained the conditions in the forward part of the ship and later called in the helicopter to lower on-board three crew members of the ship.

The team managed to drop the starboard anchor from the ship to prevent her from drifting any further.

Thereafter, the team prepared the seamanship gear for the ship to be towed if required. The nature of the threat was evident from the explosion on-board in the forenoon which restarted the fire.

Later, the helicopter skillfully rescued all four members of the team.

Earlier, Vice Admiral Karambir Singh, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Eastern Naval Command, had directed that the ship drift towards the Sundarbans delta had to be stopped at all costs notwithstanding the high temperatures on-board to avoid an ecological disaster should the ship capsize on the sandbanks causing pollution from oil on board.

Accordingly, a Sea King 42C helicopter and a Dornier aircraft were despatched from Visakhapatnam with a core team comprising divers, MARCOS, shipwrights and seamanship specialists to stage through the IAF airbase at Kalaikunda.

Simultaneously, the Naval Officer-in-charge West Bengal liaised with the officials of the DG Shipping, ICG, KOPT, the ship owners, agents and salvage specialists at Kolkata and kept them informed of the plans.

INS Kadmat which was exercising in the Bay of Bengal on 15 June was directed to proceed to augment the on site support.

The operation this morning has successfully managed to arrest further drift of the ship to enable salvage operations by the company.

A fire was reported by the captain of the container vessel at 11 pm on Wednesday and after fighting the blaze through the night that engulfed 70 per cent of the ship, the crew members were picked up by ‘RCGS Rajkiran’ and were back an hour before midnight on Thursday at the Coast Guard’s Haldia port base.