MSC Chitra has been emitting phosphine gas, a flammable, toxic gas, from its six holds for a while now. On Friday, officials with the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) measured the amount of emissions and said it was highly hazardous.
The holds have been emitting between 2 parts per million (ppm) to 20 ppm of phosphine gas since MSC Chitra collided with MV Khalijia-III off the Mumbai coast on August 7.
Prior to this, the phosphine level emissions noted have been between 0.1 ppm and 9.0 ppm across the deck of MSC Chitra.
MPCB officials said there is no permissible limit on how much of this gas emission is acceptable because under normal circumstances, there should be no trace of this gas.
Officials said that a larger quantity of the toxic gas, which is both odourless and colourless, has been leaking for some time now, but the levels recorded on Friday are alarming. “Of the six holds, phoshine gas between 2 ppm and 20 ppm is being emitted from hold number 2 and number 4,” said an MPCB official, requesting anonymity.
Phosphine levels between 0.05 ppm and 2 ppm have also been noted on the crane barge, Kuber, which has been positioned near MSC Chitra to help assist in the salvage operations.
Senior officials from the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) said the source of the gas could be the containers that have aluminium phosphide, which when mixed with water releases phosphine gas and aluminum hydroxide.
“This gas will hamper salvage operations as until the gas emission stops completely, the containers in the hold cannot be removed,” said a DGS official.
B.D. Wadde, regional officer, MPCB, said the gas is extremely toxic and if inhaled can lead to severe health hazards. Overexposure to phosphine gas can lead to nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, chest tightness and breathing difficulty. “But the salvers who are carrying out the operations are well-equipped with masks and other gear so it will not affect operations,” he said.