Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who took a four-hour ride around the Mumbai Harbour and visited Elephanta Island on Saturday, has commissioned reports to assess the environmental damage caused by last week's ship collision, and the impact on Mumbai's fishing communities.
Two cargo ships — the MSC Chitra and MV Khalijia-III — collided just off the coast of Mumbai last Saturday, causing the MSC Chitra, which is still lying on its side in the harbour, to spill 879 metric tonnes of oil into the ocean.
Calling it a ‘freak incident, Ramesh said the location of the ship in the middle of the channel, the choppy monsoon sea and the huge quantity of oil involved made things worse.
Terming the situation “grave”, the minister added: “The damage done to the mangrove cover is quite tangible.
There is a substantial impact to the 100-kilometre coastline as well. Crude oil vaporises, but fuel oil is thick and environmentally damaging."
The studies commissioned include a centrally funded environment impact assessment to be conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute and the National Institute of Oceanography. A preliminary report will be ready in three weeks, the full report, in three months.
The Bombay Natural History Society will conduct a marine ecosystem impact study and the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute in Kochi, Kerala, will conduct a fishermen livelihood impact study to determine the compensation to be awarded to those affected. Indian Oil Corporation and The Energy and Resource Institute will conduct shoreline-cleaning activities through bioremediation, though this will not extend to mangroves.
“The younger mangroves [less than two years old] have been destroyed,” Ramesh said. “But once the oil has been sucked out of the area, the older ones may live through a natural regeneration process.”
“The Coast Guard did a great job,” Ramesh added. “But it would have helped if the Mumbai Port Trust and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust had had a pollution response system in place.”
For now, Ramesh added, the primary concern is to clear the hundreds of metric tonnes of furnace oil still on the MSC Chitra and remove the 37 containers carrying hazardous chemical and pesticides. The state government has flown in an expert from London to tackle this issue.