In view of repeated incidents of oil spills off the Mumbai coast, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has shot off a letter to Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan, demanding that her Ministry take action to draft stringent laws with high penalty for polluters.

He also sent letters to the Ministries of Shipping and Defence demanding coordinated action in case of an oil spill and enhancement of the Coast Guard's capabilities.

Mr. Chavan said, in his letter dated August 10, said that the Ministry of Environment and Forests should expedite joining the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage 2001 and the Hazardous and Noxious Substances Convention 1996.

The Maharashtra coast, he said, had been affected by continuing pollution caused by oil spills in the last few years, resulting in environmental degradation, both marine and terrestrial. After the oil spill in 2010 caused by the collision between m.v. Khalijia and MSC Chitra, which caused extensive damage to the coasts of Mumbai and Raigad, the sinking of m.v. Rak 25 nautical miles off the coast this month caused yet another oil spill.

The police have filed cases against the owners of m.v. Rak and also asked the National Institute of Oceanography to submit a report on the damage caused to the marine environment.

Mr. Chavan asked the Shipping Ministry to expedite salvage operations using the Oil Cess Fund or through a special Disaster Management Fund to ensure that further loss to flora and fauna was reduced and no time lost in launching an immediate salvage operation. He demanded an urgent augmentation of the Mercantile Marine Department.

In his letter to Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Mr. Chavan said that while the Coast Guard had, after m.v. Rak began to leak, swung into action to check the spread of the oil spill using aerial dispersants, its response mechanism needed to be enhanced manifold. While the Coast Guard was capable of managing 2-tier oil spills of upto 10,000 tonnes, it should be provided with the most advanced radar and other surveillance mechanisms to intercept any unauthorised vessel and ensure that the coast was protected against further oil spills and dumping of hazardous substances. He requested that Mr. Antony intervene with measures to augment the capacity of the Coast Guard in Mumbai.

At a review meeting of the Directorate General of Shipping, the Coast Guard reported that no fresh patches of oil were observed near the Madh Island and that it had stopped using dispersants.  Four shiny patches, however, were seen about 5 nautical miles from the Mahalaxmi temple.  Fresh patches have also been observed near INS Kunjali off Colaba. The Coast Guard estimated that the quantity of oil leaked from the sunken vessel could be about 150 tonnes.

The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board reported no fresh patches of oil on the coastline. An ONGC diving support vessel is present at the site of the m.v. Rak leakage, along with divers. They have marked the wreckage. The diving operations will take place during favourable weather and tide conditions, according to an official statement. The Directorate instructed the P&I Club to revert to the de-bunkering plan for the residual amount of bunkers still on board.

The Coast Guard ships Samudra Prahari, Varuna and Kamala Devi continued to combat the leakage from m.v. Rak. Coast Guard helicopters and Dornier aircraft undertook an aerial assessment and found that the oil slick had reduced and remained localised to about 3 sq. km. A slight reduction in rate of spillage was also observed, a press release stated.

While broken streaks of oil were seen extending as far as eight nautical miles from the sunken vessel, three Coast Guard teams continue to assist civil administration in beach cleaning operation wherever required.