The oil spill following the collision of two vessels on Saturday could have been avoided if the Kamarajar port authorities had promptly moved one of the damaged vessels to a secure location, sources have said. A senior official from the Directorate General of Shipping told The Indian Express that the Mercantile Marine Department was probing the delay of two days in allowing the damaged vessel, MT Dawn Kancheepuram, to berth inside the port.
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“If there was major damage to its draft and the fuel tank was broken, it should have been identified in the first three hours and the vessel should have been secured to a safer place. The oil spilled is furnace oil, used as fuel. Considering the amount of oil spilled and the thick blobs being removed with buckets, we suspect that it was not just the fuel but also black oil sludge at the bottom of the fuel tank that leaked. Preliminary reports show the vessel was kept in the outer anchorage even after damage was spotted,” said the official.
The DG Shipping team in Chennai — which is short-staffed and ill-equipped — is yet to issue an official statement on the reasons for the oil spill.
A spokesperson for Kamarajar port, north of Chennai, said the damaged vessel was kept outside the port for two days as there was no vacant berth. “Moreover, there were safety issues in allowing a damaged vessel inside our port,” he added.
Asked about their alleged lack of preparedness, he said: “The accident happened two nautical miles outside the port. We immediately secured the area and deployed oil containment boom. This was the first such incident for us.”
Coast Guard officials have claimed that 40 tonnes of oil had spilled, as against the port authorities’ claim of two tonnes. Sources in the Coast Guard said the port authorities denied any oil leakage until it was spotted by locals and patrolling boats.
More than 1,000 people are now engaged in cleaning the sludge. “Apart from Ennore port and the nearest shores, the oil spill has spread across the coastline in a radius of 30 km. Anna University is helping to map all the locations. We have already collected 100 tonnes of oil mixed with water, so we estimate that the oil leaked should be more than 40 tonnes,” said a Coast Guard official. “More volunteers and personnel will join the clean-up operation tomorrow.”
No casualty to marine species has been reported.