Environmentalists fear the massive oil spill after two ships collided near Chennai last Saturday will have a long-term impact on the marine life than previously believed.
The collision took place around 4am on Saturday when MT BW Maple - a ship from the Isle of Man that was on its way out of the Ennore port - hit MT Dawn Kanchipuram, an Indian ship carrying nearly 45,000 tonnes of petroleum. MT Dawn Kanchipuram was on its way to berth at the Ennore port, 24 km north of Tamil Nadu capital.
The Coast Guard said on Tuesday nearly 40 tonnes of oil sludge and 27 tonnes of oil and water mixture has been collected. The thick oil sludge washed ashore along 800m of shoreline north of Chennai harbour. The popular Marina Beach and a 2-3 km stretch of shoreline near Thiruvalluvar have also been affected.
V Arun, coordinator at the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network, said the oil can get into the lungs of marine species and cut off their oxygen supply effectively smothering them. Turtles, fish and prawns coated in oil have been found dead on the beaches.
“It is difficult to say if the deaths in the last few days are directly a result of the oil spill, but marine species are without a doubt being affected by the oil spill,” Arun said.
“Marine life is already under threat from commercial trawlers, with close to 150 Olive Ridley turtles being found dead in beaches in Tamil Nadu in January,” he added.
Unfortunately, Arun said, there is a lack of studies to gauge the impact of such events on the health of marine populations.
MD Dayalan, president of the Indian Fishermen’s Association, the incident has also affected the fishing community. Dayalan said although big trawlers have not been affected, small fishermen who fish in in country boats have not been able to go out fishing for the past few days and are under pressure.
“Almost 60 fishing villages have been impacted,” he said.
State fisheries minister D Jayakumar and senior government officials inspected the area on Tuesday after reports said people were hesitant of buying seafood as many fish were found dead after the incident.
“It is not true. People need not fear to consume fish,” Jayakumar said responding to a query.
“It is our duty to allay such fears. Therefore, we took some samples of the dead fish taken from Ennore, Marina, Thiruvanmiyur areas where there were reports of the oil slick. The results from the laboratory have clarified that it is safe to consume (them),” he told reporters.
The State Pollution Control Board has asked to activate the State Oil Spill Crisis Management Group. Owners of MT Dawn Kanchipuram have been directed to hire private agencies to contain the oil slick.
Several government agencies are engaged in cleaning up the shoreline following the oil spill. Over 1,000 personnel from various government departments were involved in the clean-up of the shoreline, Coast Guard has said. Volunteers from engineering colleges, fishing communities have also joined the cleaning operations.
Coast Guard helicopters, which were carrying out regular sorties for continuous monitoring of the oil slick, identified “stagnated thick oil slick about 100 metres wide near Ennore and 500 x 500 metres near Kasimedu harbour”.
Coast Guard ship Varada along with a helicopter integrated with pollution control equipment has sailed to clear the oil slick.
(With agency inputs)