A team of expert divers may conduct a preliminary assessment of the sunken bulk carrier m.v. Rak early on Thursday morning to identify the source of oil leak in the vessel and plug it, if possible. The ship is still spilling nearly eight to 10 tonnes of oil in the sea, 20 nautical miles from the Mumbai coastline.

A press release issued by the Directorate General of Shipping here on Wednesday said that subject to favourable sea and weather conditions, the divers would examine the vessel.

“Expert divers will identify the source of the leak and, if practicable and possible, plug the leak to check the outflow,” the release stated.

ONGC involved

The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) is also involved in the operation.

“The ONGC has been directed by the Directorate General of Shipping under the provision of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, to release a suitable specialised diving support vessel to undertake the preliminary assessment of the oil being released from the sunken ship,” the release said.

The vessel is expected to reach the site of the ship on Thursday morning for undertaking the assessment.

The DG Shipping has also advised that the experts from International Tanker Owner Pollution Federation (ITOPF), a non-governmental organisation, be roped in for helping in conducting survey mapping of the affected areas. The same organisation had sent its experts last year after the oil spill due to collision of MSC Chitra and m.v. Khalijia.

Officials said experts can guide the concerned authorities including the owner to deal with the clean-up operation along the coastline and to repair the damage to marine life including plants, micro organism, and the wetland areas.

Meanwhile, oil continued to spill from the bulk carrier on Wednesday as well, at the same speed as that on Tuesday, even as the Coast Guard continued spraying Oil Spill Dispersant (OSD) for the third day.

“The spread of oil apparently has gone up perhaps due to the increase in the speed of prevailing winds,” DG Shipping officials said.

“Outflow appreciated to be about ½ T/hr (half tonne per hour) as reported earlier. Ships sprayed Oil Spill Dispersant (OSD) in heavily affected areas to neutralise oil patches and the situation is said to be under control,” the Coast Guard said on Wednesday.

Coast Guard officials said no fresh tar balls were reported from any of the State's beaches, but the Maharashtra Maritime Board reported small patches of oil traces on the Juhu beach and some tar balls at Gorai.

Residents and local shopkeepers at the Juhu beach said the oil on the beach had reduced considerably.

“There was a lot of oil two days ago. [On Wednesday] there are very small traces. In fact, that is nothing as compared to what we saw day-before [Tuesday],” a local photographer said.

Field ecologist Deepak Apte said oil had not yet been reported to have reached the coast of Vashi and Uran, important places for mangrove ecology.

Environmentalist Debi Goenka said the authorities should also prepare a plan to ensure that 60,000 tonnes of coal which had sunk along with the ship did not come out.

“There is no sense of urgency. It is not going to be physically possible to remove 60,000 tonnes of coal. What happens to it if the ship breaks?” he asked.