As workers continued with efforts to control the damage from the oil spill near Chennai, 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 nearly week-long crisis, triggered by oil spill resulting from the collision of two ships off the Kamarajar harbour on Saturday, 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.
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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 tonne. 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 tonne were now left in the ship that has been anchored to the harbour.
Meanwhile, refuting allegations that the port was not adequately prepared to tackle such a situation, Union Shipping Secretary Rajive Kumar said the port was prepared to handle an oil spill of the scale of 600 tonnes. “What we have seen is substantially lower damage. An audit by the Oil Industry Safety Directorate clarifies that the port was equipped. Moreover, the Centre is providing 50 per cent subsidy for the purchase of emergency equipment for both the public and private ports,” he said.
Asked about preliminary findings that the damaged vessel was not secured from the ocean immediately and that lack of communication between two vessels led to the collision, Kumar said that taking the damaged vessel inside the port might have been harmful for the port infrastructure. “There are protocols. We have to verify insurance coverage of the vessel, its classification and other details,” he said, adding, “whatever leaked is much lower than what is being projected in the media.”
Experts have said that even if the shores are cleared of the sludge, impacts of the oil spill may continue for weeks, even months. In the past five days, black oil sludges have been spotted in major beaches in Chennai.
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