Oil spill off Chennai not properly assessed by government, warn environmentalists

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Feb 03, 2017, 07:15 PM IST
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The oil spill in the Chennai coast has badly affected marine life in the area . Photograph:(AFP)

By Anuradha Mukherjee

Tamil Nadu police have registered cases against the management of two tankers that collided last week leading to a massive oil spill along the Chennai coast, media reports said.

Even a week after the oil spill off India's south Indian state Tamil Nadu's capital, Chennai, there is very little confirmed information on the substance that was tipped over into the sea after two ships collided last Saturday. 

Conservation activist have been urging the government to treat the oil spill that has now reached Chennai's famous Marina beach seriously, say it was a small problem that has been compounded by government neglect. 

"We don't know how much of it has spilled and what spilled. In the absence of that, we don’t have a baseline estimate to assess the damage," said social activist Nityananda Jayaram, who writes on environmental abuse. "Latest information from the Coast Guards say they have cleaned 70 tonnes of spillage from the northern reaches of Chennai alone." 

Jayaram said government apathy and denial of the spill has turned it into a bigger environmental hazard for marine life as well as communities like those of fishermen dependent on the sea for a livelihood. 

"Even on the day, January 31, that the slick had reached the Marina (beach in Chennai), the minister (Indian minister for surface transport and ports), Pon Radhakrishnan, came to the city and said there was no spill. Before that the Kamarajar port had said there was no spill. Now the Coast Guards have joined the melee and said the environmental impact is minimal," said Jayaraman. 

State authorities had pressed into service 2,000 men for cleaning the beaches and sea front with about 50 "super-suckers" cleaning the effluents from the waters. 

"Who are these people, youngsters with no training or even protective gear. The surfeit of oil makes it difficult to breathe there. Petroleum is carcinogenic. This is the most vulgar display of ignorance in Digital India". 

Earlier, Coast Guard Eastern region Inspector General Rajan Bargotra while giving details of the clean up had said a probe has been ordered by the Directorate General of Shipping into the oil spillage that has blackened the Chennai shoreline following the collision of two ships last Saturday. 

Describing the incident as a "major accident but a minor (oil) spill," Bargotra said "oil spill has occurred in nearly 34,000 square metres in the eastern coast of Bay of Bengal" amid reports that marine life has been affected. 

On January 28, MT Dawn Kanchipuram, carrying petroleum oil lubricants (POL), and MT BW Maple, loaded with LPG, collided off Kamarajar Port in Tamil Nadu. Several tonnes of crude from MT Dawn spilled into the sea. The oil has spread over a 30 km stretch along the coast, from Ennore where Kamarajar port situated, according to reports.

Meanwhile, Rajan Bargotra, IG, Coast Guard said the coastline of Chennai and Ennore is expected to be "cleaned up completely by tomorrow". He added "80 per cent" work is already complete. 

On January 31, the Coast Guard had said in a statement: "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."

Many turtles and fish have died and washed ashore due to the oil spill, environmentalists have warned.


(WION with agency inputs)