Mumbai: About 40 vessels are apparently stranded off Indian coasts, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said here on Thursday.
"But the matter is under control. We have a strict regime, we, the ministry of shipping...And if that doesn`t work, we will invoke the Environment Protection Act," Natarajan told reporters here.
"Ministry of shipping and coast guard ensures that no vessel enters the Indian territory. It is ensured that they have proper insurance cover, particularly if they are of a certain age," Natarajan said.
All posts have the machinery to ensure that the radioactive material does not enter our territory. And that equipment is functioning very well, she said.
If it sometimes escapes, the ports have the procedure to deal with and dispose it in a safe way, she added.
"There is a need to make sure there is a corpus and that we have the forecasting systems for future oil spills in place," she said.
"We need to establish a common corpus between the ministry of shipping, the coast guard and the environment authorities so that we don`t wait for money. We cannot wait until the claim process is complete to start salvage operations," the minister said.
It is important for the government to maintain a corpus, a fund where immediately salvage operations can begin.
"I specifically requested information about two ships which are currently two miles and 10 miles away from Mumbai coastline. I have been assured that the matter is within hand and that there is not too much petroleum on board the ships," she said.
The ministry of shipping has ensured that with their own barges and equipment, the ships are kept stable and operational and now the new owners will take responsibility, she said.
Natarajan favoured setting up of a corpus fund to aid quick response to fight oil spills off the Indian coast. In recent past, there have been frequent incidences of crude oil leakages due to breakdown of ships and leakage from pipelines operated by oil companies in west coast.
The minister held wide ranging consultations with all stakeholders in Mumbai and reviewed the status of present safety systems adopted by concerned agencies.
The cleaning operation after the oil spills often got delayed due to lack of clarity about who would fund it.
She said a corpus fund would come in handy under such circumstances and the cleaning up operation could begin immediately, thereby limiting damage to the environment. The outgo from the fund would be reimbursed once the compensation liability is established and claims settled.
"This is a good proposal, the corpus size and the pattern of funding will be finalised after holding consultations with stakeholders and discussing the matter with the Prime Minister," the minister said.
Maharashtra Pollution Control Board had some experience in this regard, acquired while dealing with multiple oil slicks during 2010, she said, adding that the state model will be studied further.
Shipping authorities have been monitoring the entry and exit of ships in Indian waters by following well laid out guidelines.
The minister, however, insisted for strong environmental laws to deal with shipping vessels that damage India`s fragile coastal eco-system, including provisions for establishing criminal liability.
Natarajan also asked the Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Boards to review the status of existing pipeline networks at major ports to identify vulnerable areas that would need replacement or upgrading.
She also asked the oil companies to upgrade their existing pipelines with monitoring systems like Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition to regularly monitor the health of pipelines.