Oil Spills and India


I suppose most of us love sunshine, water, beaches, shorts and wind, at least on a vacation. What would happen if we went to Goa and stand near the secluded Colmar beach, waiting for the sea tides to hit us and instead we have a black tar kind of liquid lashing at our feet?? God forbid, more than disgust or bewilderment, we would be horrified if such an incident occurs.

However, it’s been happening to Mumbai and their Juhu and Versova beaches from the past 1 year and except for the hue and cry raised by the non-profit ‘Bombay Natural History Society’, we see zero action by our government authorities.

To put this into perspective, let’s recall about the  Gulf of Mexico or the BP oil spill controversy last year and its subsequent ghastly consequences on the marshes, fish, birds and beaches. Lawsuits ensued to cover up liabilities, fines were imposed on BP by US environmental agencies and cleaning responsibilities of ocean water were effectively delegated.

However, even after all the above operations; it was found that close to 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea in the next few months which exterminated all the microbial organisms which are part of the larger aquatic food chain. Marine biologists claim that the effects of this spill on fauna and flora can be assessed and completely felt in the long term, approximately after 10years.

With the above background in mind, let’s see where and why I am driving to. The increase in Oil spills and shipping disasters in the past few years is mind boggling.

Last year, 2 ships MSC Chitra and MV Khalijia III collided near Mumbai in August last year which resulted in 900 tonnes of hazardous oil leak. Regarding this spill incident, I didn’t come across any information on the compensation benefits or the penalties levied on the ship owners or their companies by Indian government.

Again, just in June this year, a massive 9000 ton cargo ship ‘MV Wisdom’ which was commissioned to a Gujarat port for dismantling was stranded due to technical faults, near Juhu beach. However, since the ship was empty and didn’t carry any oil or cargo, it didn’t pose any environmental risks unlike earlier case. Our Navy officials registered a case against the foreign captain and his employees manning the towing ship, for negligence.

Now, it’s the Oil spill from the ship M.V. Rak near Juhu beach, Mumbai which is worrying me to no end. According to a report by Indian Coast guard, the sensitivity of Mumbai area to oil spill is high because of its proximity to sea and also due to the presence of corals and mangroves. These mangroves are home to many species of turtles, birds and are a breeding ground for variety of fishes. These species will be endangered not only due to the toxic oil but also due to the cleaning liquids and aerosols sprayed to stop the spread of the oil.

With no clear contingency plans and strict enforcement of laws dealing with environmental pollution and lack of coordination with research institutes, Navy, Coast Guard and Environmental agencies; such accidents are bound to destroy the few fragile ecological habitats India has, which inevitably would take decades to replace if ever we can.
Also, check IMOWatch’s take on this disaster and their suggestions for the shipping industry in India in dealing with toxic wastes, spills and other related issues.

The fate of our sea waters and coastline would be known by the reaction of government for this incident and its aftermath. Until then, fingers crossed!

Image source: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2334057.ece