The crew of the two tankers which collided last week and caused the massive oil spill off the coast of Ennore port are currently being interrogated by police. Both the crew and the ships will also not be allowed to leave Kamarajar port until the investigation into the accident is concluded.
While Chennai Port Trust chairman P Raveendran released a statement saying that action would be taken along the “polluter pays principle”, there is still a great deal of confusion over the events of last Saturday when the two oil tankers collided.
The environment ministry has issued a notice to the port, seeking to know whether it contained the necessary infrastructure required to deal with a situation like this. Union minister Nitin Gadkari on Friday also announced that a probe has been launched to determine who was responsible for the oil spill.
The two tankers in question - the MT BW Maple and the MT Dawn Kanchipuram - collided with one another on January 28 near Ennore Port. Petroleum oil lubricant subsequently leaked from the Dawn, which, according to a statement by Union minister for shipping Pon Radhakrishnan, had more than 32,000 tonnes of oil on board.
“The oil spill has been cleaned. From the tank, it did not leak. Oil was leaked from the engine. There is no leakage from the ship," said Radhakrishnan.
The several tonnes of crude oil that spilled into the sea had spread in a matter of days, blackening some of Chennai’s iconic beaches, and raising concerns about the ecological impact of the disaster.
Indian Coast Guard East region inspector general Rajan Bargotra said the oil spill was around 34,000 square metres in area, and that the oil patches near the shore have to be removed manually.
The Kamarajar Port had initially issued a statement denying that any oil had been leaked, which led to a mishandling of the situation according to experts.
“The port’s handling of the matter is dangerous,” says environmental activists Nityanand Jayaraman. “If they issued the statement without knowing what happened that is a concern: But if they were complacent after finding out that oil had spilled that is an even greater concern for us.”
More than 2,000 workers are at the worst affected areas, such as Bharatiyar Nagar in Ennore, manually removing oil sludge and oil sand from the coastline. Many are volunteers, ranging from students from nearby schools to local fishermen whose livelihoods have been damaged by the oil spill.
According to the Coast Guard, the oil spill may take up to 10 more days to be fully cleared.
But while the port authorities and the tanker crews squabble over who is culpable for the accident, the real ecological damage that the spill has caused will only be apparent in a few months time, according to experts.