Ships impounded as oil spill near Chennai threatens ecology

04 Feb 2017


Port authorities in Chennai have impounded a vessel belonging to Oslo-based BW LPG and a local ship carrying heavy fuel oil, and detained their crew, a spokesman for the port said on Friday, after their collision last week caused an oil spill affecting marine life and local fishing.

Nearly a week after the oil spill resulting from the collision of two ships off the Kamarajar harbour on Saturday last, the environment ministry has issued a notice to the Kamarajar port authorities, seeking to know whether it had installed necessary infrastructure needed to deal with situations like these.

The oil spill, meanwhile, is threatening to become a major ecological disaster, with the spillage extending down to Marina Beach in Chennai.

The Directorate General of Shipping has instituted an inquiry under the Merchant Shipping Act to ascertain the factors that led to the accident.

About 20 tonnes of heavy fuel oil leaked and a complete clean-up is expected to take eight to 10 days, according to an Indian coast guard spokesman.

BW Maple, owned by Oslo-listed BW LPG, with a total capacity of 82,000 cubic metres of liquefied petroleum gas, was half full when it collided near Chennai with the Indian ship Dawn, belonging to Darya Shipmanagement Pvt Ltd,  off Kanchipuram on Saturday.
The port spokesman said the sludge - a mixture of oil, water and sand - has travelled over 28 kilometres, polluting the Marina Beach, one of the world's longest.

Television footage showed black layers of oil floating near the shoreline, with buckets being used by volunteers and coast guard officials to clean up the sludge.

The environment ministry has asked port authorities to take all action to minimise the environmental fallout of the spill and wanted to know whether they had installed infrastructure they had promised to while applying for clearances to expand its operations two years ago.

It has asked the port to report, at the earliest, the ''facilities designed, installed and operated'' to minimise the possibility of oil spill and contain its impact.

The ministry had cleared expansion and modernisation of Kamarajar Port in December 2014.

The shipping ministry on Friday said over 80 per cent of the remedial measures had been completed and the remaining work would be over in the next two to three days.

''The total quantity of sludge which has been removed till today is 65 tonnes. In addition, 'super suckers' (pumps) have removed 54 tonnes which contains 70 per cent water,'' minister of state for shipping Mansukh Mandaviya told the Rajya Sabha.

Mandaviya said that more than 2,000 people were engaged in removal of sludge and other activities in Chennai and Kancheepuram while another 1,000 people were working in Ernavur.

He said more than 30,000 tonnes of POL (petroleum, oil, lubricants) had been safely removed from the damaged vessel, and only about 2,800 tonnes were now left in the ship that has been anchored to the harbour.

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