The central coordinating agency for oil spill response in India, the Coast Guard, on Friday demonstrated its preparedness and capability to contain major marine oil spills at the fourth national-level pollution response exercise, Clean Sea-IV, held off the Kochi coast on Friday. The previous editions of the exercise were held off Mumbai.

The extensive drill simulated the whole spectrum of oil spill disasters — from close-to-harbour pollution exigencies to major incidents involving tankers — to revalidate the response mechanism to each scenario. Massive mobilisation of platforms including eight Coast Guard ships led by the specialised pollution control vessel Samudra Prahari; three Chetak helicopters; two Dornier aircraft; an oceangoing naval tug; an oil tanker of the Shipping Corporation of India; and several vessels of the Cochin Port Trust was done for the conduct of the exercise, which began with a demonstration of containment of oil slick using river booms by vessels of the Port Trust.

“While spills of up to 700 tonnes are to be handled locally, the Coast Guard can contain spills of 10,000 tonnes, beyond which experts from outside [oil spill response organisations] are called in,” Vice-Admiral M.P. Muralidharan, Director General of Coast Guard who oversaw the exercise from CGS Samudra Prahari told the media.

“Some stakeholders [which include major ports] have developed the capability [to contain marine oil pollution]; others are in the process of getting it.”

Over the past three years, there had been 10 to 12 incidents of marine oil pollution. Kochi, with its new LNG Terminal and oil handling capabilities, was the ideal place to try out the existing response mechanism. While the force had already inducted two specialised vessels for pollution control, a third would be inducted soon, the Vice-Admiral added.

The exercise showed the use of a Sevac heliskimmer to churn oil slick before recovery. A beach cleaning effort was also carried out in coordination with the State government. At outer sea, some 10 nautical miles off the Kochi harbour, a major oil pollution scenario was played out in a graded fashion. Coast Guard vessels carried out high-speed skimming, while helicopters and Dornier aircraft sprayed oil spill dispersants. Ocean booms were used to contain the slick. A scenario involving ‘an oil tanker in distress’ saw a Chetak helicopter carrying out a search and rescue (SAR) operation of personnel from the tanker, as two Coast Guard vessels doused a simulated fire outbreak in the tanker’s vicinity. Naval tug Matanga soon towed the tanker in question to safety.

Meanwhile, Samudra Prahari was pressed into action. The vessel, with a capacity to store 500 KL recovered oil, demonstrated extraction of oil slick using its side-sweeping arms and skimmers. Storage of spilt oil by dracon barges was also exhibited.

Senior officials of the Coast Guard, ONGC, BPCL, State Maritime Boards, Cochin Port Trust, and various Pollution Control Boards witnessed the exercise.

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