Vessel's last voyage ends on Indian sands

Beaching: An obsolete Russian freighter bearing gifts glides out of the night to end its days on the beach at Alang.

December 09, 1997|By Will Englund and Gary Cohn, The Baltimore Sun

ALANG, India — The last voyage of the Nikolai Pogodin, a Russian freighter plagued by debt and barnacles, ended in the hopeless hour before dawn on the beach at Plot No. 20.The lights of the Pogodin glimmered out in the bay, seeming for a long time not to be moving - but the ship was charging out of the dark night straight toward the beach at Alang. As it came closer, the outline of the hull became visible, set off by the white foam at the bow.

Beaching a ship is a ticklish business. The current runs strong. Kenneth Pereira, the Alang pilot, once had a ship's wheel come off in his hands during a beaching. The shipbreaking plots are narrow, and the water offshore is littered with parts of vessels.

The throbbing of the Pogodin's engines reached the shore. And then the ship rose at the last moment. Its bow lifted toward men gathered on the beach, feeding a fire with scraps of rubber. In a single, easy motion, the old freighter came to a stop.

The Pogodin dropped anchor for the last time, sparks flying as the chain rattled off its winch.

"It's a good ship," said Capt. Leonid Baturevich, "but it's 26 years old. That's too old. It's getting dangerous."

The ship was dark and now belonged to Chetan Tamboli, owner of Plot 20. He sent his men aboard, and news came back that, unbelievably, the Russians had left behind 150 bottles of gin and vodka. Tamboli and the others were ecstatic.

Alang is in Gujarat, a dry state, yet the owners of the shipbreaking companies are a notoriously hard-drinking lot. This was like a gift from heaven.

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