On Board ICGS Bard: Six days after the oil spill off Chennai coast, over 2,000 personnel from different agencies today stepped up clean up efforts even as the Coast Guard believed it may take at least 10 days to clear the sludge from the site of collision of two ships in Ennore port.
Coast Guard Eastern region Inspector General Rajan Bargotra while giving details of the clean up said a probe has been ordered by the Directorate General of Shipping into the oil spillage that has blackened the Chennai shoreline following the collision of two ships last Saturday.
Describing the incident as a "major accident but a minor (oil) spill," Bargotra said "oil spill has occurred in nearly 34,000 square metres in the Eastern coast of Bay of Bengal" amid reports that marine life has been affected.
Volunteers wearing gloves could be seen scooping up the thick tar with shovels off Kamarajar Port, formerly Ennore Port.
The mishap occurred at about 4 am when 'M T BW Maple', with a flag of 'Isle of Man', was leaving after emptying Liquefied Petroleum Gas and M T Dawn, Kanchipuram, loaded with petroleum oil lubricant (POL), was on its way to berth at the Kamarajar Port.
"Oil spill has occurred in nearly 72 km off the eastern coast from Ennore Port to Mahabalipuram. About 12 km got affected with oil slick and about 250 metres particularly in R K Nagar Kuppam area was most affected," he told reporters on board a Coast Guard ship in Bay of Bengal.
Noting that 72 tonnes of oil sludge has been collected, he said, 54 kilolitres of oil mixed with water was collected through super sucker equipment. "An inquiry has been ordered by DG Shipping and based on that we will be able to know exact amount of oil spilled into the sea on the day of the incident," he said.
Stating that by tomorrow evening, the coasts of Marina beach and Elliots Beach at Thiruvanmiyur would be cleaned, he said it would take at least three or four days to clean up the South coast area which was affected.
"At least 10 days will be needed to clean the Ennore Port area (where the incident had occurred)," he said.
Chennai Port Trust Chairman P Raveendran said scientists from IOC Faridabad, Petroleum Ministry Additional Secretary, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Shipping have already arrived to take stock of the situation.
He said an inquiry has been ordered under Captain Subhash Kumar to identify the cause of the mishap.
Bargotra later said 2,600 personnel from various agencies along with Coast Guard, Tamil Nadu Police Coastal Security Group, Pollution Control Board, Fire and Rescue Department, State Highways, Chennai Port Trust, Chennai Corporation, volunteers from various colleges, universities and NGOs are involved in the cleaning operations.
Meanwhile, the Madras High Court directed the state government to urgently look into the issue and take necessary steps.
The court's direction came on a PIL seeking a direction to authorities to take action against the ships which had collided, resulting in crude oil leakage from 'Dawn Kanchipuram.'
The First Bench, comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice M Sundar, before which the PIL came up, said, "On hearing the counsel for parties, it transpires that the apprehension of the petitioner is that on a principle of 'Polluter pay' if the ship crosses the territorial waters, the government may not be able to recover anything."
"This of course, in no manner absolves the government of the responsibility to take necessary steps to remove the pollutant, for which the National Green Tribunal, Chennai Bench, is already stated to have been approached."
"We are of the view that no direction can be issued in the matter, except to observe that the state government may look into the issue urgently to take such steps as deemed proper in the given situation, especially keeping in mind that as per the petitioner there has been some recent developments in terms of registration of FIR and some action post filing of the petition," the bench said.
According to petitioner ME Raja, President, National Union of Fishermen, Royapuram, Chennai, the two ships collided off Ennore Port, Chennai, within the territorial waters of India and this resulted in leakage of crude oil from 'Dawn Kanchipuram' which was reported to be fully loaded tanker vessel carrying tonnes of oil.
He further submitted that crude oil started spreading on the sea water and within a day reached the shores of Ennore Beach resulting in death of many turtles and fish.
The oil spill completely stopped fishermen in the region from venturing into the sea as almost all the fish in the area covered with the oil spill have either died or moved to the deep sea, the petitioner submitted.
Apprehending that if the vessel moves out of territorial waters, the petitioner said it would be very difficult to prosecute or to recover the costs and sought a direction to authorities to take steps for initiating prosecution against the erring parties....