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Oil Spill : Experts Advise Mumbaikars To Avoid Seafood

PTI 08 Aug 2011, 15:12:18 IST
PTI

Mumbai, Aug 8 :  MV Rak, the Panama-flagged cargo ship that sank off Mumbai on Thursday, started leaking oil late on Saturday night, and by Monday morning a large area of sea coast had oil floating on it.

Last August, the collision of merchant ships MSC Chitra and MV Khalija at the mouth of Mumbai harbour had led to a major oil spill.

“Since last night, oil has been leaking from the sunken vessel at a rate of 1.5 to 2 tonnes an hour. The oil has spread about seven nautical miles around the vessel,” a defence press release said.

Coast guard ship Samudra Prahari has started an oil containment operation, named Paryavaran Suraksha — 2/2011, by using oil dispersant to neutralise the spill.

“More than 700kg of oil spill dispersant was sprayed over seven nautical miles from where the ship sank and the spill was noticed,” a coast guard officer said.

But alarm bells have started ringing, with environmentalists advising people to stay off fish for a while and authorities telling fishermen not to venture near the spillage area, reports DNA. “The oil does not get dissolved in seawater; rather it forms a thick layer over it,”

Rituraj Joshi of Nisarg Trust said. “This affects marine biology and disrupts the marine food chain. Big fishes eat small ones coated with oil and fishermen catch big fishes for the market. So, there is a chance of our bodies being contaminated.”

The oil layer cuts off the oxygen supply in water resulting in the death of marine animals, he said. “The oil will not reach beaches immediately… it depends on the wind speed and tide. The authorities should do everything possible to stop the oil from reaching the beaches.”

Though fishermen's unions said the current spill would not affect fishes, the authorities have directed them not to venture near the oil spill area. “Fishing will start only on August 15. People need not worry,” Damodar Tandel of the Maharashtra Machchimar Kruti Samiti said. But it is a known fact that there's an abundant supply of fish in markets, which means fishing happens, albeit unofficially.

The police, however, asked people on Sunday to avoid beaches, especially Juhu. “I appeal to people not to go to beaches or enter the sea to avoid getting affected by the oil spill,” Arup Patnaik, Mumbai police commissioner, said.

The state pollution control board has been asked to collect and check samples of the spill.

When it sank on Thursday, MV Rak had 60,000 metric tonnes of coal in its hold and 290 tonnes of fuel oil and 50 tonnes of diesel. It was on its way to Dahej port in Gujarat from Indonesia.

The coast guard and the navy rescued its 30-member crew following a distress call from the vessel. Several state agencies along with maritime traffic management agencies are working on a contingency plan to contain the spill.

Oil spills in the Arabian Sea, off the Mumbai coast, seem to have become an annual affair. MV Rak, the Panama-flagged cargo ship that sank off Mumbai on Thursday, started leaking oil late on Saturday night.

The Juhu patches are apparently of the less harmful lubricating oil. They seem to be coming from the unmanned MT Pavit that beached in Mumbai last week after being abandoned by its crew in Oman about 1,300km away.

The bigger danger is the thick fuel oil being spilled since yesterday by MV Rak, a cargo vessel that sank 20 nautical miles off the Mumbai coast on Thursday.

According to the coastguard, the oil is leaking at a rate of 1.5 tonnes to 2 tonnes per hour and has spread up to seven nautical miles, which means it was 13 nautical miles (24km) from the coast this evening.

Last year, a collision between two ships had caused a major oil spill across Maharashtra's coastline.

Coastal authorities have advised the state to warn fishermen not to venture near the MV Rak spill. The coastguard said it had launched Operation Paryavaran Suraksha-2/2011, with vessels spraying dispersants to neutralise the oil spill from the ship.

The MV Rak, a Panama-flagged vessel carrying 60,000 tonnes of coal from Indonesia to Dahej in Gujarat, sank after water entered the cargo hull, officials said. The ship was also carrying 290 tonnes of fuel oil and 50 tonnes of diesel.

A coast guard official said the ship's metal oil tank may not have ruptured yet and the leak may have been caused by the entry of water into the cargo hull.

The MT Pavit was carrying 30 tonnes of oil. A state pollution control board team has collected samples from Juhu beach. “There is oil presence on the beach. It is not continuous but is spread patch by patch,” board official Y.B. Sontakke said.

Lubricating oil is used to run ship machinery such as purifiers, while the engine runs on the heavy fuel oil and the generators on diesel, a marine expert said. “The damage caused by lubricating oil would be much less than that from the thick fuel oil,” he said.

A salvage operation on the MT Pavit will be conducted after coast guard authorities approve a plan by the ship's owners and insurers.

Worried environmentalists are waiting to find out in which direction the MV Rak spill would drift.

“This is the time for mangrove seeding and any possibility of the spill reaching the shore is worrying. The coal or an oil spill will kill the seeds and affect mangrove regeneration,” said Deepak Apte, deputy director of the Bombay Natural History Society.

Authorities are contacting the Qatar-based owners of MV Rak, whose 30 rescued crew members are in Mumbai. The captain and the chief engineer were arrested for negligence but have been released on bail.

In New Delhi, Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan ruled out any cause of concern over the oil spill.

Natarajan today asked the pollution authority to lift samples of the slick. "I reviewed the matter with my officials in the ministry. At this point of time, we do not see a cause for concern," Natarajan told reporters outside Parliament.

"We are are constantly monitoring the situation. As far as exact facts are concerned, this is a matter which is being dealt by the Coast Guard," she said.

Oil spill from a cargo ship that sank off Mumbai four days back has affected the city with oil reaching the beaches and water near its shoreline.

Quoting Coast Guard reports, Natarajan said, "According to reports, oil is leaking about at the rate of one to two tons per hour. I have asked the local pollution control board to take samples. So far there is no cause of concern. There are some other reasons also for the oil presence in the water."

She said the Coast Guard has sprayed over 600 litres of aerosol to disperse the spill.Local fisherman have also been given advisory due to bad weather to stay away from the sea till August 15, she said.

In Mumbai, a Coast Guard release said the oil spill from cargo vessel MV Rak off the Mumbai coast has decreased in quantum as compared to yesterday even as the authorities continued their efforts to neutralise resultant environmental pollution. 

An aerial recce of the oil slick was carried out by CG helicopter between 0930 and 1030 hrs today. It was noticed that the oil slick around the source of the spill has decreased in quantum as compared to yesterday and the rate of spill has reduced to approximately 1 ton an hour, a Coast Guard release said.

It said the oil slick is visibly thin and a broken silvery sheen extending up to two miles from the scene of the incident is seen. Some of the broken oil patches have also been sighted up to 12 nautical miles from the sunken vessel.  Coast Guard ships Samudra Prahari and Sankalp continue to be engaged in Pollution Response (PR) operation. In order to neutralise peripheral oil patches, CG has pressed one more ship ICGS Amrit Kaur into action. A Dornier aircraft of the CG from Daman has also been deployed.

“Every effort is in hand to check fresh oil hitting the coast/beaches,” the release said.

Three CG teams comprising 30 personnel have been deployed for assisting BMC, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and state authorities in analysing the impact in the affected areas and taking appropriate remedial actions, it said. PTI