Mumbai Oil Spill 2010 Case Study

Mumbai oil spill stops but environmental threat remains

India | NDTV Correspondent | Updated: August 09, 2010 23:57 IST

Mumbai Oil spillenvironmental threatMSC Chitra

Mumbai:  The oil slick off Mumbai coast is a serious worry and the government is trying its best to contain the damage, that's what Maharashtra Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan told NDTV, as an environmental disaster threatens the Maharashtra coast. (In Pictures: Mumbai oil slick)

After Saturday's ship collision, the oil slick off the Mumbai Harbour has been spreading fast and thick, the only good news is that the oil leak has been plugged, Coast Guard sources told NDTV. (Read: Oil leak off Mumbai coast has stopped: Coast Guard sources)

Maharashtra Chief Secretary JP Dange met the Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrashekhar, Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar and National Disaster Management Authority Vice Chairman NC Vij on the Mumbai oil spill.

Sources told NDTV that experts have told the Maharashtra government that it may take 45 days for the cleaning up process but the state government is looking at a 10 day deadline.

On Tuesday, there will be another meeting in the shipping ministry and the environment ministry.

Several reasons are being given for why the ships collided, Coast Guard sources say:
  • The two ships were communicating on different radio frequencies
  • Ships are supposed to have a pilot to guide them during crossings. In this case neither did
  • Questions as to whether the port trust radar warned the ships
There are fears that MSC Chitra could get stuck indefinitely mid-sea much like the River Princess which ran aground off the Goa coast in 2000, creating a bigger environmental nightmare.

"There is a vessel traffic monitoring system which tracks the ships. There seems to have been a miscommunication between the control and captain of ships because of a problem of frequency," said Suresh Shetty, Maharashtra Environment Minister.

Maharashtra Minister for Shipping and Transport V K Patil said, "The two captains have been detained. There are agencies working on the operation. After the chlorine incident I made it a point to offer a recommendation. Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust  (JNPT) and Mumbai Port Trust (MBPT) have to pull up their socks. This is a wakeup call for them. We are taking up this issue. We are holding discussions with the Shipping ministry."

The oil slick, environmental authorities say will take a month to clear. The clean up costs have to be borne by the shipping companies. But the fate of MSC Chitra not so certain because India is short on specialized ships and equipment to deal with such disasters.

Who's affected

Drums filled with pesticide detached from the MSC Chitra have been floating dangerously in the sea, also becoming a navigation hazard.

When the MSC Chitra collided with the Khalijia on Saturday, it had a cargo of 1,219 containers holding 2662 tonnes of fuel, 283 tonnes of diesel and 88040 litres of lubricant oil. Thirty-one containers had pesticide in them. The Chitra tilted sharply under the impact of the collision, resulting in the oil spill and now, containers of pesticide bobbing off on the sea.

The slick has reached the beaches of Alibaug, Marva and the Elephanta caves in Mumbai and is also threatening the mangrove belt along the coastline. Efforts are on to ensure it does not.

The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has been alerted as the slick has also reached the Sewree area where it is located. Floating containers from one of the ships are posing a navigational hazard some have drifted near the Gateway of India.

Now, the Coast Guard has asked BARC and other institutions along the coast not to use Arabian Sea water as it might contain oil, corrosive and toxic substances following the oil slick caused by collision of two vessels off Mumbai coast.

"Coast Guard has issued a general circular to Bombay Port Trust and a copy of it has been received by BARC," Director of BARC R K Sinha told PTI.

Water samples are being tested in the sea from the Mumbai coast to Raigad and six coast guard ships have been deployed to neutralise fuel and pollution.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has said that the oil spill is a serious concern. "The oil slick off the Mumbai coast is a serious worry and the government is trying its best to contain the damage," Chavan told NDTV. (Watch)

The government has sounded an alert for fisherman and others along the coast asking them not to venture out at sea and has asked people to avoid eating fish.

PM concerned

Concerned over the oil spill, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday called for a report from the Shipping Ministry on the incident. "The Prime Minister has called for a preliminary report from the Shipping Ministry on the oil spill," PMO sources said. (Read: Prime Minister calls for report on Mumbai oil spill)

The issue was also raised in the Rajya Sabha where Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said legal action has been initiated against owners of the two vessels.

"Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board has already initiated legal action against the owners of the ships," Ramesh said.

The worry also is that there can be a bigger disaster waiting to happen if the MSC Chitra cannot be refloated. A ship that size can change the fish habitat, alter the topography of land nearby and poison the sea in the area for decades once it floods.

The MSC Chitra and Khalijia had collided on Saturday at the mouth of the Mumbai Harbour. The Khalijia had been at the harbour for over a fortnight for repair work when the collision took place.

A case has been registered against the captains and crews of both ships. The Director General of Shipping has also ordered an inquiry. (With PTI inputs)

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The oil spill on the Uran coast close to Mumbai is larger than what was estimated, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has said. The admission came two days after the leak of crude oil from an ONGC pipeline. It took 12 hours to cap.

Initially the MPCB estimated that 1,000 litres of oil had washed into the sea. On Wednesday, it said the figure could be thrice more. “The leakage started at 8.30 p.m. on Sunday and it was arrested around 11 a.m. the following day. This means that a lot of oil has seeped into the sea. It is definitely more than thrice the amount the ONGC estimated,” said Dr. Y.B. Sontakke, MPCB’s regional officer for Navi Mumbai.

The MPCB has sought a report from the Directorate of Industrial Health and Safety which has gathered samples from Uran to study the concentration of oil in the water and soil.

ONGC spokesperson S.K. Pathak, however, maintained that the slick was minor.“The leakage was contained in the channel itself. A minor amount went into the sea,” he said.

When The Hindu visited the area on Tuesday, several fishermen said they would not be able to go to sea for a few weeks because the fish would be either dead or unfit for consumption. Deepak Apte from the Bombay Natural History Society said whether the slick was big or small, the impact on marine life is always there.“This spot, especially, is where oil spills have occurred earlier. It will definitely have some impact on mangroves. This is also the period soon after seeding, so the impact will be greater,” he said.

In the recent past, major oil spills have caused major damage to the ecology.In August 2010, the collision of merchant ships MSC Chitra and MV Khalija 3 off Mumbai’s coast spilled over 800 tons of oil into the sea. Over 8.57 lakh mangroves along the coastlines of Mumbai, Thane and Raigad districts were severely affected.

In January 2011, ONGC’s Mumbai-Uran trunk pipeline burst spilling oil across four off the Mumbai coast.

In August 2011, MV Rak which was carrying 60,000 metric tons of coal, 290 tons of furnace oil and 50 tons of fuel oil, sank.


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