Teams of conservancy workers from the Greater Chennai Corporation and Ramky Enviro Engineers, the private conservancy agency, physically removed blobs of oil deposited along the beaches on Wednesday.
The oil had been washed ashore on to the beaches including the Marina and Elliots following a spill on Sunday after two cargo ships collided off the Kamarajar Port Ltd (KPL) in Ennore, north of Chennai. Due to wave action and the southern current, the spill spread some 34 km till Vettuvankeni in the south, making patterns in the sand. “We were provided sacks and protective gear, including gloves and masks, and asked to remove the oil. We worked almost the entire day. The oil mixed with sand was put in sacks and transported by trucks,” said Kumar, a conservancy worker.
Sources in the oil industry said that 40 tonnes of oil sludge removed from the Ramakrishna Nagar beach near Ernavur junction would be sent to the hazardous waste processing facility in Gummidipoondi. “For now, it is being sent to the KPL to keep it in storage. Usually, such oil is sent to the refinery but in this case, it cannot since it has saline content,” he said.
A source in the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) said that booms had been laid at the Ernavur site to prevent the oil from spreading. At least a thousand volunteers have been removing the sludge. N. Shahul Hameed, Joint Director of Northern Region, Fire and Rescue Services said: “ Since supersucker machines do not work with the thick oil, it has to be scooped out physically.”
T.A. Pugalarasan, a volunteer with Tree Foundation, said the work was really strenuous. “We passed buckets of sludge in the hundreds to oil tankers and PVC tanks. The oil content has come down. But in the process, the boulders that form a sea wall have been covered with oil. That should also be cleaned,” he said. The C.P. R. Environmental Education Centre, in a press release said that according to a report by the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), the handling agency, the Coast Guard, appeared to have cleared 1.1 metric tonnes. But 0.3 tonnes was still floating and 0.6 tonne was expected to evaporate, the release said.
“The immediate response of the agencies concerned has been confusing and is not up to solving the oil slick. Urgent action must be taken to contain the further spread of the oil,” it said.
Meanwhile, A.P. Sawhney, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum, along with Barun Mitra, Joint Secretary (Ports), Ministry of Shipping and Amitabh Kumar, Additional Director General of Shipping, held a review meeting at Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) which was attended by the chairmen of ChPT and KPL and officials of the Merchantile Marine Department and oil majors.
NGT orders notice
The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal on Wednesday ordered notices to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the Central Pollution Control Board with regard to the oil spill.
Hearing an application on the issue, the bench comprising Justice P. Jyothimani and expert member P.S. Rao took note of the manner in which the oil spill was being tackled. The bench sought a report on how it could be dealt with and remediated in a scientific manner. The case has been posted for further hearing on February 20.
(With inputs from R. Sivaraman)