Perturbed by the death of almost 50 marine mammals and countless carcasses washing ashore along Mumbai and the rest of the Konkan coast, fishermen from the city have decided to file applications with the National Green Tribunal, western bench, to find solutions.
The associations of fishermen have alleged that the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) has been carrying out seismic blasts from ships to the ocean floor to identify oil and natural gas deposits. The blasts could be hindering the movement of marine mammals and could be causing their deaths, said members of the fishing community. A seismic survey uses sonic cannons (air guns) to shoot compacted air into to the ocean floor, creating sound waves that map oil and gas reserves in the seabed.
HT reported on Monday that the carcass of a four-foot finless porpoise washed ashore at Bhuigaon beach, Vasai, marking the third mammal death in 2017. Mumbai has recorded over 30 such deaths in the past two years while another 20 deaths have been recorded all over the state including blue whales, Bryde’s whale, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and finless porpoises.
Akhil Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samiti (AKMMS), a body constituted by fishing communities from Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Dahanu, Uttan and Vasai, decided to approach the tribunal after an internal meeting with committee heads on Sunday. “After we received no response after writing several letters to the chief minister, governor of Maharashtra and ONGC, we are left with no option but to approach the tribunal to help safeguard our ocean,” said Damodar Tandel, president, AKMMS.
In 2015, AKMMS had asked ONGC to compensate the fishing community to the tune of Rs 500 crore owing to the loss in fish catch. According to the community, ONGC began their seismic survey in January 2014, almost 12 nautical miles off the Mumbai coast, with close to 10 cables laid with air guns at end of the cables. “Sensors are used to judge the availability of oil. Every 10 seconds a blast is initiated which equals one lakh times the intensity of jet engines at sea,” said Tandel.
Other members alleged that ONGC never carried out public consultation before the survey. “The impact of their experiments has led to the loss of protected marine species including Blue whales. The income of close to 40,000 fishermen is affected as countless small fish have died due to the oil exploration,” said Sanjay Koli, general secretary, AKMMS.
ONGC officials refuted the allegations. “We abide by all environmental norms and safe offshore policies that are benchmarked upon global based practices,” said Pallab Bhattacharya, corporate communications head, ONGC. “Offshore surveying is done across the world and has been happening for the past 50 years.”
With concerns that seismic testing for oil could harm marine mammals, former president of USA, Barack Obama denied permission to all oil companies in January this year for seismic surveys and drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.