By Ranganathan Narasimhan and Renu Kakkar
Our vessel APJ Akhil was “beached” recently and the occasion brought out remembrance with fondness of the nearly three-decade long service the vessel rendered to our company Apeejay Shipping.
In numbers, the vessel ran for 1,18,992 hours, covered 1.427 Million nautical miles and provided livelihood and careers to hundreds and brought prosperity to many families not to forget the steady earnings she returned over the entire period of service to the company. She created new opportunities and at times gave hope when none was present. She was a born leader, an outstanding performer who engendered envy, love and pride – all at the same time.
Christened as Akhil by our ex-Chairman Mr. Surrendra Paul (first from left) and Chairperson Emeritus Mrs. Shirin Paul (second from left) and delivered in 1989, APJ Akhil wasn’t a sentient being technically but given the emotions that have gripped those acquainted with her, she might as well have been!
The news of her beaching brought forth pure pain from the many whose lives she was integral to. Reactions such as “I was in the delivery team of Akhil. Painful to see her like this” to “It is painful to see these pics. I have served 9 contracts on this very vessel” to “My First Ship in 1992, did 5 Contracts on this ship. Its really Painful” to “Feeling Nostalgic….APJ Akhil…was my first ship, joined on 04th Oct 1989 as cadet and later sailed as 2nd mate and Chief mate” – so many expressions could be come across.
Some nostalgic of a past life like, “I Took delivery of that Ship. Loved it at that time. Spent a long time in Hitachi Shipyard, Maizuru”; “I did 31 months on Akhil” ; “I started my career from Akhil and cherish memories”;
“I served as a mate on that Akhil”; “I started my career in Akhil and have served 26 months on Akhil. Still today my fav ship”; “On Akhil I worked as Radio off, Chief Steward, 3rd Off, 2nd Off, Chief Off and finally as Master. Thank you APJ Akhil and APJ”
“My career began on this vessel 25 months of full cadetship 2002 to 2005”; “My 1st ship. Still can’t forget a moment on it”; “I started my career from APJ Akhil in 1999”; “I did 5 contracts. Thanks to APJ Akhil” – all such expressions are touching and there were those whose comments were full of pride like “It was one of the finest ships of APJ. When I introduce myself as ex APJ personnel, the Pilots, Surveyors, Seafarers always ask me if I sailed in APJ Akhil”
“I feel it’s a matter of pride this vessel served APJ for 27 years and making way for new tonnage. Why feel sad about it?” and “I’m blessed to have served on a vessel on my own name!” resonate with our own!
To these sea farers, to the many Captains she made out of Cadets and the many Chief Engineers she made out of the Trainee Engineers, to many more whose reactions have not been expressed but to whom she taught the way of life at sea, protected them from the vagaries of nature that make humans appear teeny and humble their ego, we want to say – Apeejay Shipping celebrates its super performer Akhil whose service and memory will remain embedded in the hearts of one and all. Akhil single-handedly moved nearly 23 million tonnes of cargo in her lifetime!
She had an accommodation for 50 persons and was like a mini city. She was of a special design meant for shallow drafted ports, like Haldia and Tuticorin and she was engaged nearly all her life in the coastal movement of Coal in the East Coast of India.
She was of a unique design with a length overall of 210 Mtrs. Her loading ports used to be Haldia and Paradip while discharge ports used to be Tuticorin and Chennai. Visakhapatnam was also a coal loading port but for many years had a restriction in the length of the vessel that could fit in the turning circle inside the harbour basin. Later this was resolved when the port facilities were improved to accommodate even longer vessels and Visakhapatnam became another loading port for Akhil. She had 6 Cranes of 24 MT Capacity and 6 Grabs of 14 CBM Capacity as against the usual design of 4 holds and 5 cranes. The grabs used for discharging were also of a 4 wire design which gave extreme robustness and speed in the operations.
Thanks to good technical management, APJ Akhil kept on performing till the end with the same enviable performance as she was when she was delivered in 1989. For a geared vessel as her, the discharge or unloading rate is a crucial parameter that indicates the efficiency of the vessel.
Till the end in July 2016, she was the vessel with the highest discharge rate in her charter with a guaranteed discharge rate of 21000 MT/day when vessels were finding it difficult to meet even 12000 MT/day. For a long time she held the record for the highest discharge rate achieved by a vessel at Tuticorin which used to be her regular discharge port, around 30464 MT/day.
Agreed that she was an efficient ship and a “Good” ship, but, looking at such emotional reactions as was mentioned before, it makes one ponder – why would someone feel so much for a ship. What makes for a “Good” ship? Is it the steel? Is it the machinery? Is it the people who design her or who operate her or all of it or something more? Seafarers feel as if each vessel has a personality of her own.
Therefore, those who have been protected by a vessel, whose livelihood has been maintained by a vessel, whose careers have been launched by a vessel remain indebted to her for ever and are thankful to her. Even the thought that such a vessel is to be scrapped is emotional for them. Not many seafarers prefer to beach a vessel for these reasons. In addition to the complete exposure to the market forces, shipping business and the vessel owners, as much as the seafarers, depend on a vessel for their sustenance and growth.
Our Chairman Mr. Karan Paul notes “APJ Akhil was the star of our fleet. Our charterers loved her for she was the best performer amongst peers and sisters for decades, and our crew, for her unfailing strength and fortitude. She will be missed greatly and remembered forever at Apeejay!” Mr. Tushar Ranjan Neogy, the CFO of Apeejay Shipping and a veteran with the Group calls her the “Usain Bolt of Apeejay Shipping”. Having been around since before the delivery of APJ Akhil and seen her entire working life closely, he says that she was the envy of the competition for her entire lifetime.
It was a hard decision to let Akhil go. Akhil’s last crew rendered a beaching assistance by taking her to a beaching yard facility that has a mild gradient and soft sea-bed enabling Akhil to come at full speed head-on and climb up the ground. With her steel now cut and removed, she became lighter and was pulled closer by using powerful winches kept ashore. Akhil’s steel will be used again for ship-building or may go to steel mills and be converted to other steel products such as bars. The machinery and accessories will again be put to use. It is therefore consoling to realise that whatever form she takes, Akhil will continue to provide hopes to many.
All of us at Apeejay Shipping join everyone else, whose lives Akhil touched, to bid a fond farewell to the Queen of Bay of Bengal.
Captain Narasimhan is Director, Operations & Commercial, in Apeejay Shipping Limited
Ms Kakkar is Director, CSR and Communications, at Apeejay Surrendra Group