We cherish the memory of Captain N. Sundaresan
Capt. N. Sundaresan's(1933 – 2012) name will be carved out in GOLDEN LETTERS as the Founder of Alang Ship Recycling Yard. His vision of a site for world class Ship Recycling Yard has now taken enormous proportions and provides livelihood to thousands of people at Alang for three decades ago. Today used ship's machinery and parts are transported across the globe to assist newer ships in difficult time to be afloat. Steel from Alang finds usage across all sectors in India.
An age old adage goes “Necessity is the Mother of all inventions”. It was this necessity of breaking down of several thousand ships in the 30 years starting from 1980's that lead Capt. N. Sundaresan in the look for a suitable ship breaking site in India. Capt. N. Sundaresan was from 1960 Batch,T.S.S. “DUFFERIN”and a Master Mariner who had spent several years at sea worldwide. He was a shrewd observer and having identified the necessity of a ship breaking site, did feasibility study of all the possible sites on both the Coasts of India and particularly in Gujarat. He spent several months tirelessly pursuing each prospective place prior ruling out some of the sites as not suitable for ship breaking activities. Today ship breaking sites in India include Haldia near Kolkatta, Beypore in Kerala, Darukhana in Mumbai, Sachana close to Jamnagar and Alang about 50 Kms. From Bhavnagar.
Capt. Sundaresan was a well-reputed Marine Barrister who practiced for various P & I Clubs in London and had taken a fancy to study and practice Marine Law from a very young age. He was the pioneer in facilitating documentation fo sale and purchase of ships meant for scrap now called Memorandum of Agreement (M.O.A. – for Demolition Tonnage) and an Arbitrator on marine disputes. He spent a few years as Port Officer, Bhavnagar (1968), and was also appointed as a Nautical Advisor to the Gujarat Government and was instrumental in the formation of what is now known as Gujarat Maritime Board.
Bhavnagar was a sleepy town during those days with not much of activity per se ship breaking. Small ships and barges used to berth at Bhavnagar New Port those days which were used as lighter ages for loading and/ or discharging cargo at Bhavnagar Anchorage where the bigger ships used to drop anchor. The New Port Bhavnagar is located some 6 Kms away from Bhavnagar and entry of small ships is through a Lock Gate due to tidal conditions into the Wet Basin. This Lock Gate was built some 80 years ago and was in operation until a few years ago and presently undergoing repairs.
In the late 1970's a ship drifted uncontrollably towards Gopnath Point and ran aground. It was an important event and drew a lot of attention. The grounded ship could not be salvaged at a reasonable cost and hence it was decided by ship owners to abandon it. Gopnath Point is very close to Alang and lies between Bhavnagar and Alang. Capt. Sundaresan, having observed that the grounding location was very suitable for ship breaking, decided to further scour the surrounding sea coast in and around Gopnath Point and was fascinated by the possibilities of a regular port and ship breaking site around port Alfred Victor.
In 1980, when beaching a ship, M.V. “LEMPA” of Mansoor Taherbhai at Sachchana, near Jamnagar, the ship beached far fromshore. This prompted a debate into possible alternatives and to find appropriate solutions for better beaching for breaking purposes. It was during dinner the same evening with Capt. N. Sundaresan suggested a perfect location that he had in mind having better facilities i.e. a stretch between Bhavnagar and Alfred Victor port.
Capt. Sundaresan visited Bhavnagar next day for a regular inspection of Alang Lighthouse. It was too late to get to the beach by the time he reached there due to the undergrowth on the beach front. A feasibility study of the shore was initiated with encouraging outcome. Capt. Sundaresan suggested three sites where he saw definitive advantages at area North of Alfred Victor port, another further North and one at Alang.
He inspected Alang Lighthouse and the coastal area contemplating what could be a suitable ship breaking site with a large tidal variation, long coastline, and having suitable gradient. The only concern was the strong, variant current and the reputation of Bhavnagar Anchorage being a graveyard for ship anchor and chains. Alang village is about 10 Kms. off the road linking Bhavnagar and Mahuva then a small township about 100 Kms. to the West of Bhavnagar. This junction is Trapaj, a single lane leading to Alang, was a rough bumpy ride as also the road from Bhavnagar to Trapaj and would take more than 2 hours one way.
Capt. Sundaresan would have had to reach Alang village and Alang Lighthouse from where he would have to walk it down several kilometres to the shore as there were no roads at Alang beach then. He would make minute observations about the seashore that stretches about 10 Kms. Making important notes about tidal conditions at various points putting to use vast experience and nautical knowledge. How far would the sea recede during low waters and how close the sea would come close to the shore during high waters was a matter of prudent judgement in absence of any available accurate data. Important notes were made with regards to the assessment of speed of current, wind speeds and wind directions, and any adverse effects of storms and monsoonal disturbances that could cause a hindrance to the ship breaking activities.
Meantime the first ship, M.V.“KOTA TENJONG”, was already on way and was ordered to anchor off Gopnath Point. However, the Master anchored off Alang Lighthouse and subsequently beached, on 13 February 1983, amidst all doubts and fears.
This invariably brought a different type of steel plant to Gujarat. All this would have not been possible without the untiring contributions, dreams, efforts, professional acumen of Capt. N. Sundaresan and the visionary that was Capt. N. Sundaresan.
This article is in dedication especially in the fond memory of Capt. N. Sundaresan as the Founder of Alang Ship Recycling Yard.