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Chennai Oil Spill: Five Days On, Efforts to Clear Sludge Continue; Issue Raised in RS

Chennai: Efforts to remove oil sludge off the coast of Chennai continued on Thursday, five days after two ships collided near the Kamarajar Port triggering an oil spill.

Locals, volunteers and the Coast Guard have carried out round-the-clock cleaning operations.

The issue took a political colour on Thursday with DMK leader and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi raised the issue in the Upper House. “There is no help from government… Around 35 km of Chennai coastline has been polluted. Livelihood is a concern… At some point, locals were using buckets (for the clean-up). There is lack of coordination,” she said.

A Coast Guard statement said: “Around 70% sludge removed, rest expected to be removed by this evening. Three super suction pumps deployed to remove spill… Manual cleaning also in process. Tar residue collected from Marina and Elliot’s Beach… Situation being closely monitored and under control.”

Meanwhile, Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar and senior government officials inspected the area. “It is our duty to allay such fears. Therefore, we took some samples of the dead fish taken from Ennore, Marina, Thiruvanmiyur areas were there were reports of oil slick. The results from laboratory have clarified that it is safe to consume,” he told reporters.

Coast Guard helicopters, which were carrying out regular sorties for continuous monitoring of the oil slick, identified “stagnated thick oil slick about 100 metres wide near Ennore and 500 x 500 metres near Kasimedu harbour”.

Coast Guard and various personnel from Fire and Rescue department, Chennai Port Trust, Kamaraj Port Trust, Chennai Corporation, Highways, Chennai Metro Water were involved in cleaning up operation.

Volunteers from various engineering colleges, fishermen communities have also joined the cleaning operations.

The mishap had occurred on January 28 when ‘M T BW Maple’, with a flag of ‘Isle of Man’, was leaving after emptying Liquefied Petroleum Gas and M T Dawn, Kanchipuram, loaded with petroleum oil lubricant (POL), was on its way to berth at the Ennore port.

Port officials had earlier denied any ecological damage. A press release issued by Kamarajar Port Limited on February 1 said: “Today thin film of oil was noticed at some places, light oil sleek was also observed today inside the KPL port basin. About 75 litres of oil dispersant was used in KPL to clean the oil pollution. Around 33 tonnes of sludge oil was removed from Ernavoor beach site today. 70% of the oil pollution has been removed and it is expected that remaining oil sludge would be removed by tomorrow evening.”

Environmental activists say the spill’s impact on the environment, health and the livelihood is closely interlinked. “In terms of environmental threat, they are depriving fisher folks of their livelihood. They are depriving marine flora of sunlight. When port officials say they will clean up in two days, they mean visible pollution, because this will have a long-term impact as there are toxic effects. When Kamarajar Port officials say there is no environment impact, that is a vulgar statement,” said environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman.

Fisherman, too, are angry. “Around 4.35am we were going for fishing. We saw the collision of the ships. There was a terrible smell. We thought something was wrong with our boat. Nobody is buying our fish because it smells bad,” said Mohan, a fisherman.

(With agency inputs)