Chennai: The oil spill off Ennore port in Chennai on Saturday morning is spreading rapidly at an alarming pace on the coast of Bay of Bengal, washing ashore the marine species, threatening the aquatic biodiversity and raising questions on the readiness of the authorities to handle the crisis.
While the Kamarajar Port Ltd, at Ennore on Saturday said that there was “no damage to environment like oil pollution", on Tuesday Tamil Nadu fisheries minister D. Jayakumar claimed that one tonne of oil has leaked. Subsequently, it has been estimated that 20 tonnes of oil is spilled, according to a report submitted by Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS).
It has been five days since the collision of two cargo ships— LPG Carrier MT BW Maple and crude oil carrier MT Dawn Kanchipuram—that led the local fisherfolks and volunteers, along with Indian Coast Guard (ICG), to clear the oil sludge with buckets.
According to a latest report from the ICG, 40 tonnes of oil sludge and 27 tonnes of oil and water mixture have been collected.
Meanwhile, two submersible pumps used by the ICG to remove the oil sludge broke down in the interim.
“As we are still trying to clear the oil, the question is how much are we going to remove and what are we going to do with all the oil that we are collecting?" said Arun Krishnamurthy, founder of the Environment Foundation of India.
Krishnamurthy said that a large disaster is being underplayed and it cannot be manually managed, adding that advanced technology, mechanized methods and rapid measures to control the spread of the oil is required.
The INCOIS report has mentioned that the spillage has polluted 24.06km of the city’s shoreline. While it was estimated to have affected a stretch of 7.1km of coastline on Saturday, it spread to 13.1km stretch by Sunday.
Durgesh Haridas, a resident of Valmiki Nagar near the Thiruvanmiyur Beach—more than 30km from Ennore—said that blobs of oil were visible along the coast on Wednesday. “Clothes, thermocol and plastic waste covered in oil, some dead fish and Olive Ridley carcasses are on the beach. Though there is no visible discoloration in the water, the slick is definitely spreading southwards as the coastline tapers," he said.
Disasters are anticipated Chennai which has two ports and yet the preparedness to handle is appalling, according to observers.
After the collision of two vessels and “despite knowing that a disaster is rolling out, there is still no mechanism in place which is a bigger disaster compared to the accident", added Krishnamurthy.
The port authorities initially claimed that there was no oil spill.
However, by Monday morning, a thick layer of floating oil blackened the shoreline of the Marina beach, more than 20km from Ennore port.
On Tuesday, minister Jayakumar responding to opposition leader M.K. Stalin said, “One tonne oil has leaked", resulting in floating oil slicks. He said steps were being taken to procure “oil dispersants which will have to come from the Centre"
Meanwhile, a statement from the ICG said: “It is estimated that more than 20 tonnes of oil has spilt from MT Dawn Kanchipuram as against the initial report of two-three tonnes."
Ecologists assert that the impact of this oil spill on Chennai’s marine ecology is massively negative and it is here to stay for long. Environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman in a Facebook post said that at this point immediate action should be taken to clean up the shores, remove possible amount of spilt oil without exposing people to the spill, and compensate the fisherfolk and find ways “to hold the polluters, their enablers and our failed, non-existent regulatory infrastructure accountable".