Foreign experts chip in as oil-spill spreads to newer areas

The oil-spill spread to new areas posing a major ecological threat to Mumbai`s coastline.

Mumbai: Foreign experts have been called
in to limit the damage of the oil spill triggered by
Saturday`s collision between two cargo ships off Mumbai
harbour as the leakage spread to new areas posing a major
ecological threat to the city coastline.

As the Coast Guard and Defence personnel waged a grim
battle to plug the leak caused by the oil slick, Mumbai Port
Trust (MbPT) has appointed SMIT Salvage, a Netherlands-based
company, to control the spill, a senior port official said.

"We have appointed SMIT Salvage to tackle the
oil-spill. The company is working there with 11 off-shore
vessels out of which six are from Mumbai-based Great Offshore
Limited," the official said.

Another team of experts in handling maritime disasters
has arrived from Singapore to assist in the salvage

Two Panamanian cargo ships -- MSC Chitra and MV
Khalijia-111 -- collided on Saturday off the Mumbai coast
causing an oil spill from one of the vessels.

Thirty-three crew members, including two Pakistanis,
were rescued following the incident.

The Navy and the Coast Guards carried out
anti-pollution operations for the third consecutive day today
to check and neutralise the oil spill.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said the ship contained
around 2,600 metric tonnes of oil. "It is believed that around
500 MT must have spilled over."

S S Dasila, Commandant (Maritime Rescue Coordination
Centre) of Coast Guard said the oil spill posed a serious
danger to maritime fauna and flora.

"MSC Chitra has tilted 80 degrees," Arun Singh,
Commandant (Operations), Coast Guard said.

He said so far, 300 of the 1,200 containers on the
ship have tumbled into the water.

There could be much more serious ecological
implications of the accident as containers aboard MSC Chitra,
which has run aground and is tilting precariously, are falling
off into the sea.

At least 31 containers with hazardous chemicals
including organo-phosphorous pesticides, sodium hydrochloride
and pyrethroid pesticides are on board and quite a few of them
might have tumbled into the sea and their contents leaked, he

He said the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre authorities
have been asked not to use sea water for cooling purposes at
the premier atomic establishment.

Coastal districts of Maharashtra have been put on
alert as the oil slick has spread to the Alibaug and Uran
areas, and also close to Elephanta caves amid concerns that it
may also damage the rich mangrove belt along the coastline.

The Navy and the Coast Guard personnel carried out
anti-pollution operations for the third consecutive day today
to check and neutralise the oil spill.

The Chief Minister, who undertook an aerial survey of
the affected areas, voiced serious concern over the oil spill
and its consequences.

"This (oil spill) is a serious issue. The Coast Guard,
Defence people are looking into it. We have already filed
cases against captains of the ships," Chavan said.

With the oil slick posing threat to the marine life,
he advised people against fishing in the affected areas.

"Things are not fully under control, that is why we
are worried about it. Fishing in that area and consumption of
fish should be avoided," he said.

Asked if the Mumbai port congestion was the reason for
the collision, Chavan said, "I can`t say so at the moment,
till the exact reason (for the collision) is established."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought a report from
the Shipping Ministry on the incident, a PMO official said in

The issue also came up in the Rajya Sabha where
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said legal action had been
initiated against the owners of the two ships.

Maharashtra Transport Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe
Patil, who reviewed the situation with the agencies involved
in the operations, said Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and
Mumbai Port Trust have to improve their functioning.

"JNPT and Mumbai Port Trust have to pull up their
socks. This is a wake up call for them," the minister told
reporters at the Coast Guard headquarters at Worli.

According to Directorate General of Shipping`s Chief
Nautical Advisor M M Saggi, the anti-pollution operations
by the Coast Guard are on in full swing.

Six coastguard vessels and a helicopter with anti-
pollution dispersal spray systems have been pressed into
service to contain the oil spill.

Operations at the Mumbai harbour have been badly hit
as large adrift containers pose major navigational hazard.

"Traffic has been restricted at both at JNPT and MbPT
as the containers are afloat in various channels making
navigation hazardous," a Coast Guard official said.

Deputy Police Commissioner Khaled Qaiser said that
an FIR has been registered against captains and crew members
of both the cargo ships under relevant sections of IPC and
Environment Protection Act at the Yellow Gate police station.

The crew members were booked under Section 280 (Rash
navigation of vessel), 336 (endangering life of others) and
427 (mischief causing damage) of IPC and relevant Sections of
Environment Protection Act, he said.


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