The barge vital carrying two steam generators for units 5&6 of India’s Kudankulam NPP is stuck on a rock close to the plant’s purpose built jetty. The ongoing operation to rescue the barge suffered a setback recently resulting in the bottom of the barge being damaged, The Hindu reported. 

The incident was first reported on 9 September by the Maritime Bulletin which said the barge had broken away from the tow line of tug RESCO 5 on the morning 6 September and became grounded on coastal rocks near the Kudankulam cargo terminal. The generators, along with other equipment for Kudankulam and also for China’s Tianwan NPP, left the Atommash production site in Russia’s Volgodonsk in May. They then travelled by road to a pier where they were transferred to barges for a river trip of 3,500 kilometres to St Petersburg to be reloaded onto sea vessels for a voyage through the Baltic and North Seas to the Atlantic, through Gibraltar, the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal, the Red and Arabian Seas to their destinations.

Kudankulam NPP in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu will comprise six units with VVER-1000 reactors. Work began following an intergovernmental agreement between India and Russia signed in 1988. Units 1&2 (Phase I) are already in operation and work is underway to build units 3-6 (Phases II and III).

The equipment for Kudankulam arrived at Tuticorin in India, to be transported by barges to the site. As the two steam generators, each weighing about 310 tonnes, were being towed, the flatbottom vessel designed for carrying heavier loads struck a rock near the jetty.

Despite the best efforts made so far by marine engineers from Chennai and Mumbai ports, with a tug boat from Colombo harbour also pressed into the rescue operation, there has been no progress to date. “As it was felt that a tug boat with heavier pulling capacity could do the job, a vessel from Colombo harbour was summoned to the site, but the tug boat could not haul the stranded barge,” The Hindu said.

“Due to rough sea conditions and the barge sitting on the rock being pulled by the tug boat, the vessel has suffered damage in at least seven spots in the bottom, which are being attended to by underwater welders flown down to Kudankulam from other Indian seaports,” according to a Kudankulam NPP official. “We expected that the rise in sea level will make our job easier, but it was not of much help. So, we are trying our level best to accomplish the work by employing some other strategy,” he added.

Even though the tilted barge was stabilised by loading water in the opposite side, the entry of seawater into the vessel through the damaged portion has caused further problems and the barge is leaning slightly to one side.

“Hence, we cannot use the balloons for towing the barge from the rock as the vessel with the steam generators may sink in the sea with the water entering the vessel through the damages beneath. Against these unforeseen circumstances, we have also stopped the second tug boat coming from Colombo,” the sources told The Hindu.

A team of divers from Mumbai are now videographing the damage at the bottom of the barge and the rock formation. A meeting attended by the top officials from Kudankulam, senior technicians of the Mumbai port, barge operator and the insurance company has been held at the plant site. As the barge is stuck just 300 metres away from the shoreline, the meeting also discussed the possibility of forming a temporary road from the shore to the rock where the barge is stuck for installing cranes to lift the steam generators from the barge.

Image: The two steam generators have run aground just 300 metres from the shoreline