Oil Spill, tankers, MT BW Maple, MT Dawn Kanchipuram, Chennai
Wikimedia Commons

Two vessels -- MT BW Maple and MT Dawn Kanchipuram -- were crossing each other outside Kamarajar harbour off the coast of Chennai when they collided at 3.45am on January 28. On February 4, exactly a week after the incident, the Narendra Modi government claimed that the work to clear up the massive oil spill is expected to be over soon, but the reality seems to be completely different.

MT Dawn Kanchipuram, an oil tanker carrying 32,813 tonnes of petroleum, oil and lubricants, suffered a rupture which led to engine oil spill (and not the POL carried as cargo). There was no casualty or injury to the crew members.

Kamarajar Port immediately deployed oil boom around the vessel after bringing it to a safe location at 7 am on January 28 to contain the seepage. Union Shipping Ministry, however, says that no further seepage was discovered.

The situation was closely monitored by top officials of the port from the time of accident and the required assistance was rendered to both the vessels. Since MT Dawn Kanchipuram was loaded with a huge amount of POL cargo, it was critical to ensure that this vessel was safely berthed and its cargo discharged to obviate the possibility of any further catastrophic accident and a major oil spill.

"Immediate steps were taken to assess the damage to the vessel. The diving team of Kamarajar Port carried out under-water inspections. The port officials consulted the respective Classification Societies and DG, Shipping officials who carried out inspection of the vessels internally and externally," the ministry said.

After examining the stability of the vessel, it was decided to berth MT Dawn Kanchipuram at the port to immediately discharge cargo to prevent any environmental damage. The Kamarajar Port carefully brought the vessel to the port which was a very challenging task since the main engine of the vessel was not in operation and the berthing movement had to be carried out as a cold move. This major step averted the possibility of a major oil spill disaster. MT Dawn Kanchipuram has now completely discharged the POL cargo.

The National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan provides that while the port is responsible for responding to an oil spill within the port area, the Coast Guard is responsible for acting as the central coordinating agency for combating oil pollution in the maritime zone and the state governments are responsible for shore line response. Equipment required to handle Tier-1 oil spill response was available with Kamarajar Port and was also deployed.

The Coast Guard was informed by 6.15 am on January 28, and they deployed their ships and helicopters by 7.15 am to survey and keep a watch on the oil spill.

As soon as the oil leak was tracked, the Coast Guard started mobilizing equipment and manpower for clean-up at various locations and coordinated these operations. A massive clean-up operation was launched in Tiruvallur, Chennai and Kancheepuram districts by engaging more than 2,000 persons at various sites including Ernavoor, Chennai Fishing Harbour, Marine Beach, Besant Nagar, Kottivakkam, Palavakkam, Neelankarai and Injambakkam beaches.

The Coast Guard has been coordinating the cleaning operations jointly with personnel from Chennai Port and Kamarajar Port, Tamil Nadu government and its agencies, Indian Oil Corporation, NGOs, cadet trainees from maritime educational institutions, student volunteers and fishermen. Groups were formed and cleaning work was undertaken at different places of the shoreline.

At Ernavoor, which had the maximum drift of sludge, booms have been deployed along the shoreline to contain the oil spread. Over 1,000 people have been deployed there with portable pollution cleaning equipment for shoreline cleaning.

The required logistics and equipment support has been provided by Chennai and Kamarajar ports. Sufficient gum boots, gloves, buckets, mugs, liquid hand wash and drums have been provided to facilitate manual cleaning.

In addition, submersible pumps have also been deployed to remove the oil spill. The Coast Guard has also sprayed oil spill dispersants for removal of oil slick. ICGS Varad with TC-3 and Oil Spill Dispersant (OSD) sailed out and neutralised remaining oil slick near Chennai Lighthouse.

The total quantity of sludge (mixture of oil, water, ocean material etc.) which was removed till February 2 was 65 tonnes. In addition, super suckers had removed 54 tonnes which contained 70 percent water. On February 3, about 21.1 tonnes of additional sludge was removed from Ernavoor.

It is observed that there is a vast difference between the quantity of oil spilled and sludge recovered due to the fact that the oil gets coagulated and becomes puffy when it is mixed with water, sand etc. Over 90 percent of the work has been completed and most of the residual work is expected to be completed in a couple of days.

The Indian Oil Corporation has provided special bio-remediation material for treatment of the collected oil sludge for its safe disposal. Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited has arranged for trailers and manpower for transporting collected sludge to Kamarajar Port area for bioremediation treatment. The bioremediation will be undertaken by IOCL under the supervision of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and will be completed within six to eight weeks.

The Coast Guard ships and helicopters are carrying out regular sorties for continuous monitoring of oil slick. If oil spillage accumulation is spotted anywhere, manpower and material under the overall supervision of Coast Guard will be deployed for necessary action.

The Directorate General of Shipping has instituted a statutory inquiry under the Merchant Shipping Act to ascertain the causes and contributory factors that led to the accident. Both the ships have been restrained from leaving the port.

The DG Shipping is also holding discussions with the owners of the ships and the mechanism of distribution of compensation and payment of claims by the insurers will be shortly in place.