Along the 2,500 km journey, attempts were made in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to usurp the liquified medical oxygen stored in the tankers.
The transportation of the Liquified Medical Oxygen (LMO) from a steel plant in Burnpur, a township in Asansol of Paschim Bardhaman district in West Bengal, to Kochi on Thursday morning marked the successful culmination of a dramatic sequence of events spearheaded by the Kerala Motor Vehicle Department (MVD).
On the way to Kochi, attempts were allegedly made in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to even usurp the 9 kilolitres of LMO stored in the tanker, leading to tension.
"We were asked to give up the oxygen with a promise to replace them. However, our men resolutely defended. They took the key of the tanker away and contacted the District Collector and the State Transport Commissioner. Eventually, the police intervened, facilitating the onward journey," said B. Shefiq, Joint Road Transport Commissioner, Tripunithura, who was in charge of the mission.
The journey was marred by obstacles as the tanker engine stuttered to a halt at Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, leading to a delay of eight hours.
In fact, the drama began to unfold with the seizure of the three tankers after the multinational company that owned them and deployed for the transportation of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) for the Kochi-based Petronet LNG declined to surrender them citing internationally-accepted technical standards. They claimed that transporting oxygen in LNG tankers will lead to chemical reactions with hydrocarbons leading to an explosion.
However, the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) had granted an exemption in view of the prevailing oxygen shortage paving the way for the seizure of the tankers based on a directive issued by District Collector S. Suhas under the Disaster Management Act.
However, converting the tankers into a form fit for transporting oxygen called for a costly technical process called "purging," that involved multiple rounds of circulation of nitrogen to strip them of the hydrocarbon presence.
"Much to their credit, Petronet LNG bore the cost of ₹15 lakh – ₹5 lakh for each tanker – out of their CSR funds. Once purging was done, the standard operating procedure called for clearance of the tanker by an external agency and a Hyderabad-based engineering firm did it at a reduced rate of ₹40,000 per each tanker as against the original fee of ₹75,000," Mr. Shefiq said.
Hiccups still persisted as a LMO-producing company based at Kanjikode in Palakkad declined to supply oxygen in a converted tanker. That’s when the Central allocation of 100 tones of LMO to Kerala from the plant at Burnpur came in handy.
"A MVD team then went about making hose, nozzles and couplings for facilitating the filling of oxygen into the tankers, custom made for LNG movement," said Mr. Shefiq. Later, a committee involving the Transport Secretary and Transport Commissioner decided to airlift the tankers and the first of the tanker was airlifted from Coimbatore on account of inclement weather in Kochi on May 15. Ernakulam RTO P. A. Shabeer and Enforcement RTO Shaji Madhavan were also involved
A crew of 9 KSRTC drivers and an assistant motor vehicle inspector was also sent alongside. The drivers were given a day-long specialised training in operating the tanker.
Initially, the oxygen wasn’t delivered as the plant operators demanded a certificate of purging issued in the last 24 hours. This hurdle was overcome with the help of a local agency at Burnpur, the cost of which was met by the Kerala Medical Services Corporation.
Eventually, the tanker was brought to Kochi after covering nearly 2,500 km. The other two tankers collectively carrying 18 kilolitres are on the way and will reach here in a couple of days.
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