New Delhi: A Panama-based shipping company and its two Qatar-based sister concerns were on August 23 directed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to pay up Rs 100 crore as damages for causing an oil spill when a cargo vessel sank off Mumbai coast in 2011, damaging marine ecology.
While asking the three companies to pay Rs 100 crore as environmental compensation (EC) to the Ministry of Shipping, a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Swatanter Kumar also ordered Gujarat-based Adani Enterprises Ltd to pay Rs five crore as EC for dumping in the seabed 60054 MT coal, being carried by the ship M V RAK, and polluting the marine environment.
The tribunal asked Republic of Panama's Delta Shipping Marine Services SA, Qatar-based Delta Navigation WLL and Delta Group International to pay Rs 100 crore to the Ministry, observing that reports showed that the documents in favour of the ship were issued in a biased manner and the vessel was "not seaworthy", right from the inception of its voyage.
It also held the respondents to be defaulting entities which had adopted the "most careless and reckless attitude" in protecting the marine environment.
"We are of the considered view that determined damages of Rs 100 crore should be paid by and recovered from respondents number 5, 7 and 11, jointly and severally while respondent number 6 is held liable to pay Rs 5 crore as environmental compensation for dumping of the cargo in the sea and then failing to take any precautionary or preventive measures.
"The consignment of 60054 MT of coal has caused marine pollution and continues to be a cause and concern for environmental pollution. The respondents are defaulting entities which have not complied with law and have adopted a most careless and reckless attitude in relation to protecting the marine environment," the bench, also comprising Judicial Member U D Salvi, Expert Members A R Yousuf and Ranjan Chatterjee, said in its 223-page judgement.
The tribunal constituted a committee to look into various aspects, including to study and report to it within a month on whether removal of the ship wreck and cargo from its present location should be directed as per global conventions and in the interest of marine environment.
NGT passed the verdict on a petition filed by Samir Mehta, a Mumbai-based environmentalist, who had sought compensation for damages caused to the marine ecology due to the oil spill. The ship, which was sailing from Indonesia to Dahej in Gujarat, sank 20 nautical miles off the South Mumbai coast in the Arabian Sea on August 4, 2011.
The vessel was owned by Delta Shipping Marine Services SA while Delta Navigation WLL and Delta Group International were responsible for its voyage. The ship was also carrying more than 60,000 metric tonnes of coal for Adani Enterprises Ltd thermal power plant in Gujarat besides containing 290 tonnes of fuel oil and 50 tonnes of diesel.
The bench said it was "a clear case where negligence is attributable to the four firms" and added that it was not a case of sinking of a ship by "accident simpliciter".
"But it is a case where element of mens rea can be traced from the unfolding of the events that finally led to the sinking of the ship on August 4, 2011. Non-rendering of requisite help by the ship owner and other persons interested and responsible, to the Master of the ship, despite the fact that they had complete knowledge about the status of the ship prior to the occurrence of the incident on August 4, 2011..."The ship had developed mechanical and technical snags at Colombo and Singapore and the Master of the ship had asked for help there during its onward journey. There is nothing on record to show that ship owner and other respondents provided timely assistance to the Master of the ship," it said.
The bench said "on the true and purposive construction of the International Conventions and the statutory provisions afore-referred, no party from any country in the world has the right/privilege to sail an unseaworthy ship to the Contiguous and Exclusive Economic Zone of India and in any event to dump the same in such waters, causing marine pollution, damage or degradation thereof."
It said the ship and its cargo should be removed by the four companies or they shall get it removed within six months from the date of submission of report of the committee, consituted by it, before the tribunal.
"The liabilities to pay environmental compensation as aforedirected are on account of and subject to adjustments, after the submission of the final report by the Committee," it added.
A year before this oil spill off the Mumbai coast, another such accident had occured in the Gulf of Mexico when an oil rig 'Deepwater Horizon' had exploded, leading to sea- floor oil gushing out for 87 days till it was capped. Eleven people had gone missing in what is considered to be the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.
In July 2015, after a long legal battle, BP, formerly known as British Petroleum which owned the rig, agreed to pay USD 18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in US history so far....