CHENNAI: Sunday’s oil spill off Ennore has travelled all the way to Vettuvankeni for a distance of 34.50 km, and for the first time, it is clear that a whopping 20 tonnes of thick black oil are polluting the waters of the coast. The oil slick was caused after a collision between MT Dawn Kanchipuram and MT BW Maple continues to move south wards as the ocean current in the Bay of Bengal is a Southern current at present.
The Coast Guard, which is involved in cleaning the spill that has reached the beaches of Chennai, said “It is estimated that more than 20 tonnes of oil has been spilled from MT Dawn Kanchipuram as against the initial report of 2-3 tonnes by the ship.” The most impacted point has been identified as the one near Ramakrishna Nagar Kuppam Beach. High pressure super sucker pumps have been pressed into operation to extract the sludge.
Throughout the day, fishermen and those living close to the coast heard the whirl of Coast Guard helicopters carrying out sorties for continuous monitoring of the drift pattern of the slick. “Dead fish of all sizes are being washed ashore along with the oil. However, there is no sign of oil on the fish. We are unable to walk on the sands since the oil is getting heated in the sun and sticking to our feet,” said a group of fishermen at Vettuvankeni.
Sources said that some turtles and ‘sea snakes’ too washed ashore dead in these parts. Dogs and crows in Kottivakkam and Vettuvankeni were seen picking up fish that were being washed ashore. The dogs had blobs of oil sticking on their bodies. “I am worried as to what will happen to these animals that are eating the fish that are likely to be contaminated with oil,” said B. Kannan, a resident of Thoraipakkam, who had been to the beach.
Approximately 15 tonnes of oil and sludge have been collected since Monday by staff of various departments and by volunteers including Tree Foundation and Environmentalist Foundation of India. The EFI has put up posts on their social media pages asking for volunteers from NSS and NCC, working professionals and students to assist in the cleaning up of the spill. “There is a lot of work being done by the Coast Guard and around 17 volunteers went today to the shore near Ernavur to assist in any way we could,” said Arun Krishnamurthy, founder EFI.
Too little done?
Meanwhile, several experts have been saying that too little has been done by the various agencies that do not seem to have a plan in place to clean up the mess, which is yet to be classified as minor or major. The type of oil is yet to be ascertained.
Environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman in a Facebook post said that the battle against the oil spill has been fought. The environment has lost. At this point, we can most immediately take action to clean up the shores, remove whatever oil it is possible to remove without exposing people to the oil or whatever it is that spilled, compensate the fisherfolk, and figure out ways to hold the polluters, their enablers and our failed, non-existent regulatory infrastructure accountable.
The Kamarajar Port Ltd has clarified that there is no ‘oil spill’ from Saturday morning, after it laid the oil booms. Pon Radhakrishnan, Minister of State (Shipping), who visited the site on Monday, observed no oil spill taking place from the damaged ship.
A meeting chaired by the Chief Secretary Girija Vaidhyanathan took place at the Secretariat in which collectors of Chennai and Tiruvallur districts, chairmen of Chennai and Kamarajar Ports, representatives of Coast Guard, Navy and Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Secretary Environment and Forests and Director of Environment took part. Sources said it had been decided to deploy large numbers of manpower and clean up the mess.
The ICGS Varad, which has spill spray arms and oil spill dispersant (OSD) has dispersed about two tonnes of the chemical to neutralise the slick. The owners of MT Dawn Kanchipuram, M/s Dharya shipping have been directed to hire private agencies for containment and recovery of remaining oil slick.
The Coast Guard has asked Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to nominate nodal officers for combating/ recovery of oil spill in line with State Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan. It has also been requested to activate the State Oil Spill Crisis Management Group.
(With inputs from S. Poorvaja)