Large puddles of thick black oil littered the Gorai beach over the weekend, fuelling speculations about a possible oil spill in the sea near the coast.
Locals told HT that the muddy black oil, resembling molten tar, was washed ashore during high tide and was deposited on the sand and the rocky barrier that has been erected to prevent high tide from entering residential compounds along the coastline.
“Normally, during the first week of monsoon, minor oil residues are found on the beach, ostensibly released (or leaked) from ships passing the coast. But this kind of spill has never been noticed at a time when the monsoon is on the retreat,” said the owner of a shack by the beach, requesting anonymity.
Locals said that oil on the beach affected their daily routine, given the fact that they extensively use the beach route for business (on the beach) and to commute from one village to another.
“We have to carefully negotiate the puddles while walking on the beach. This is because oil stains cannot be removed by washing. Also, it creates irritation on the skin,” said a local.
Meanwhile, Mahesh Patil, deputy commissioner of police, Zone 11, told HT that they would probe the issue.
“We will conduct an inquiry with the help of the Coast Guard to find out who is responsible for the oil spill,” Patil said.
The possibility of a ship cleaning the hull near the coast cannot be ruled out as a reason for the pollution, according to noted environmentalist Bittu Saigal.
“The Coast Guard is not equipped to prevent the pollution. Agencies such as the TERI (The Energy Research Institute) are not financed to clean up after accidents. And port trusts are more concerned with increasing the capacity of ports than enhancing environment security,” Saigal said.
As per international conventions, merchant vessels are not allowed to wash residual material from oil tankers at ports, said Shankar Gajbhiye, chief scientist, National Institute of Oceanography.
“But there are instances when residual crude oil is cleaned off after crossing international maritime borders. This crude oil gets washed off on the coast in lumps. Although one-third of this vapourises, a third can affect inter-tidal marine flora and fauna, while the rest is nonsoluble. Other possibilities such as leaks from ships or oil rigs would have to be investigated,” Gajbhiye said.