Bangla oil spill poses major threat to Sunderbans

A major oil spill on the Bangladesh coast, after an oil tanker collided with another vessel on Tuesday, spilling more than 350,000 litres of furnace oil into the waters, is posing a major threat to Sunderban tidal mangrove forests.

Authorities in India and Bangladesh are on high alert after thousands of litres of oil spilled into the nature reserve across Bangladesh and India.

The oil tanker carrying 358,000 litres of furnace oil collided with another vessel on Tuesday, causing the tanker to sink in the Shela River, in the Sunderbans, spilling its cargo into a complex network of rivers and canals, according to Mohammad Yunus Ali, chief conservator of forests in Bangladesh's ministry of environment and forest.

Sunderbans, a Unesco world heritage site, has large swathes of protected areas that host a diverse wildlife, including threatened species such as the Bengal tiger, rare dolphins and the estuarine crocodile.

Yunus said clean-up efforts were continuing. "We have been trying seriously to clean it within the quickest possible time," he said, but added that it was unclear when the process would be completed.

Seven members of the sunken tanker's crew managed to swim ashore, but the boat's captain, Mokhlesur Rahman, was still missing as of Friday evening.

The Bangladesh government has filed a lawsuit against the owners of both ships.

The Bangladeshi navy had earlier sent four ships to deal with the spill, and planned to use chemicals to disperse the oil. But it was unclear whether the chemicals were actually used, amid fears of causing further damage.

The tanker, OT Southern Star, was pulled from the river on Thursday. Officials, however, are yet to assess the extent of the damage from the spill.

The tanker was reportedly on its way to deliver the oil to a power plant in Gopalganj when it was struck by another vessel.

The UN, meanwhile, has called for a complete ban on all commercial vessels using the waterways of the Sunderbans in an effort to help salvage operations.