Oil slick danger looms over Maharashtra coast (Lead)

August 9th, 2010 - 10:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Aug 9 (IANS) An ecological disaster loomed large off Mumbai and the Konkan coastline Monday due to an oil leak from a sinking Panamanian ship in Mumbai harbour.

As the Indian Coast Guard and other agencies continued frantic efforts to tackle the spill, officials Monday admitted that the situation, though posing a potential threat to the environment, was now “under control”.

Panamanian cargo carrier MSC Chitra, loaded with an estimated 2,600 tonnes of oil, 300 tonnes of diesel and 89 tonnes of lubricating oil, and a St. Kitts ship MV Khalijia-III had collided outside the Mumbai harbour, barely five km from south Mumbai.

After the initial fumbling over the issue, the state administration finally appeared to have taken the matter very seriously and top officials, including Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and Environment Minister Suresh Shetty conducted aerial surveys of the disaster-hit areas Monday.

Shetty was closeted with officials from various departments since early morning to discuss the oil spillage that threatens the Konkan coastline comprising Thane, Mumbai, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg.

Over 2,000 litres of oil continued to spill from the grounded ship for the third consecutive day, though an official claimed that the oil leak had stopped by late Monday evening.

Another serious hazard was caused by the falling of massive containers from the ship — according to Director-General of Shipping Satish Agnihotri, around 120 have already fallen off.

This poses a major safety hazard to ships entering and leaving the Mumbai Port and Jawaharlal Nehru Port, and virtually stopped all normal maritime activity in the country’s largest and busiest ports handling nearly 70 percent of all maritime trade.

Describing the situation as “extremely serious”, Chavan said that the urgent requirement is to remove the remaining oil on the ship, estimated at around 2,500 tonnes and to retrieve the containers which are floating dangerously around and blocking the shipping channels to the two ports.

A new danger that has now come to light is the toxic and inflammable nature of the cargo in 31 containers which were loaded on the deck of the grounded ship.

“It is not clear whether these containers have also fallen off, but considering that the vessel is almost heeled over, it would be fair to assume that these containers would fall off, if not already in the water,” Agnihotri told media persons.

Accordingly, the state pollution control authorities have been alerted to help out in the relief operations and all fishing activities have been stopped until the situation can be brought under control.

Meanwhile, the 800,000-strong fishing community in Maharashtra Monday demanded compensation for what they claimed were huge losses to their trade following the oil spill.

The state government and maritime authorities have banned all fishing activities in and around the Mumbai coast till the oil slick is brought under control while the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai cautioned people to refrain from consuming sea products.

This has proved to be a double blow for the fishing community, especially the small and marginal fishermen who conduct their trade on a daily basis, the Maharashtra Fishermen’s Association said here.

The country’s premier nuclear facility, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, taken aback by the oil spill in its vicinity, has initiated precautions over drawing water from the Arabian Sea for its various facilities.

While the Coast Guard have alerted the BARC about the oil slick moving towards its vicinity, officials of BARC declined to comment on the matter.

The BARC uses sea water for its two research reactions - Dhruv and Cirus - for cooling purposes.

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