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Sinking ship’s leaks are plugged,no oil alarm yet,pesticide cargo safe as of now

The Coast Guard today plugged the two ruptured tanks of the MSC Chitra which were spilling oil into the sea off the Mumbai ...

The Coast Guard today plugged the two ruptured tanks of the MSC Chitra which were spilling oil into the sea off the Mumbai coast since the ship collided with another vessel,MV Khalijia III,on Saturday morning.

However,with an estimated 400 tonnes of oil already having leaked into the water and spread over a radius of 5 km,the Maharashtra government said it would take a month to bring the spill fully under control.

While authorities launched a probe into the collision and summoned the captains of both ships for questioning,the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) sought to calm fears and said that the quantity of oil that had spilled was not large enough to cause major harm.

But the incident hurt movement of sea traffic to and from Mumbai Port Trust and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust on Monday. Large containers from MSC Chitra that fell into the sea after the collision were floating around dangerously or sitting on the shallow sea bed posing a danger to large vessels. Fishing in the area was also stopped.

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About 300 of MSC Chitra’s 1,219 containers were in the sea. While some of them had sunk,others floating were towed ashore. Nine containers found floating around Uran today were found to contain milk powder while a few others which surfaced at Cuffe Parade in south Mumbai and surrounding areas had shampoo and imported biscuits.

Although the Directorate-General of Shipping said that 31 containers on the ship were carrying hazardous cargo such as chemicals and pesticides,these containers were found to be secure as of now.

A Coast Guard helicopter which conducted a survey spotted 24 of these containers in Bay 2 of the front deck,while another four were spotted secure at Bay 3 and the rest at Bay 4.

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It said the vessel had about 1,200 tonnes of fuel oil in the ruptured tanks on the port side and remaining in her starboard side which is out of the water. A total of 2,700 tonnes of fuel oil and 300 tonnes of diesel oil is on board,it added.

Minor oil slicks were seen near the shores of Elephanta and Butcher Islands,off Mumbai’s eastern seaboard. But Coast Guard officials who sighted these patches during aerial surveillance along with patches at BARC,Sewri and off Middle Ground,cleared them by spraying chemical dispersants.

Otherwise,officials said,there was no cause for alarm as district collectors of Thane,Navi Mumbai and Raigad had confirmed that there was no sighting of oil on their coast.

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But officials said water samples from coastal areas would continue to be tested over the coming days as Chief Minister Ashok Chavan directed all tehsildars in coastal areas to collect and test samples from sea to check if the spill was traveling toward them,Environment Minister Suresh Shetty told reporters.

The tests will be conducted along the coastline from Raj Bhawan in Mumbai to Mandwa,said Shetty,who accompanied Chavan and officials on an aerial survey of the spill.

Principal Secretary (Relief and Rehabilitation) J S Saharia said that some containers from MSC Chitra had fallen into the Mumbai Port Trust approach channel. “This may affect the navigation of ships,” he said,adding that measures were being taken to remove the containers which would be shifted to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust.

In Delhi,CPCB chairman S P Gautam told The Indian Express that the full implication of the oil spill was yet to be assessed but considering the amount of oil on the ship,the situation looked manageable and the damage likely to be limited. “We do not know how much oil will finally go into the water. Some of the containers on the ship are sealed. We understand that not all of the oil on the ship will go down in water. The quantities are not very large and do not pose a major environmental disaster,” Gautam said.

Officials said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked for a preliminary report while Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh will make a statement in Parliament on Tuesday.

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Gautam said that quick response from the Coast Guard had helped in containing the damage to manageable levels. He said the Coast Guard had started spraying anti-oil chemicals that would break down the oil. Besides,the sea near the port was quite rough,aiding quicker dilution of oil in the water. “I do not think there would be massive environmental impact. We are keeping a close watch on the situation. By tomorrow evening,hopefully,we will have a correct assessment of the quantity of the spillage as well as the likely damage,” Gautam said.

The incident echoed in Parliament today with Congress MP Shantaram Laxman Naik and BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy demanding quick action from the government to contain the damage. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh,while offering to make a comprehensive statement on Tuesday,said the Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board had already initiated legal action against the owners of the ships,both of which are registered in foreign countries.

(With Amitabh Sinha in New Delhi)

First published on: 10-08-2010 at 04:35:12 am
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