Bangladesh launches manual campaign to clean up oil spill

Bangladesh launched an intensified manual campaign on Saturday to clean up seepage following a huge oil spill in 34,000 hectares at the Sunderbans that threatened the world's largest mangrove forest.

PTI| Last Updated: Dec 13, 2014, 16:43 PM IST

Dhaka: Bangladesh launched an intensified manual campaign on Saturday to clean up seepage following a huge oil spill in 34,000 hectares at the Sunderbans that threatened the world's largest mangrove forest.

The manual cleanup campaign came as authorities on India's eastern coast are on alert with additional director of India's Sundarban Biosphere Reserve Pradeep Vyas saying "We are taking all precautionary measures".

Officials and witnesses said the forest department engaged nearly 100 boats to collect the furnace oil spilled from the tanker which sank in the Shela river in the Sundarbans after being hit by a cargo vessel on Tuesday.

"At least 200 hired workers in nearly 100 engine and country boats have started a campaign to collect the oil from rivers and channels," a local resident told PTI over phone.

"The workers were loading the boats with the oil they were collecting manually using the traditional equipment and depositing those in tanks in nearby ferry terminals".

"The oil collection will continue until further notice," a forest official told a TV channel from the scene.

Forest official Amir Hossain Chowdhury said they were expected to reach a decision on the modus operandi of the oil clean up by later today.

Director General of Environment Department Mohammad Shahjahan told newsmen they have sent the specimen of the chemicals for analysis to their own laboratory and the testing facilities of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

"But we are yet to get their reports and suggestions. So until now we cannot give permission for its use in the Sundarbans," he said.

The authorities earlier had asked local people to collect the furnace oil using fishing nets, sponges or any other manual means and sell it to the state-run Padma Oil Company.

The seepage spread in the Shela and the Pashur rivers and over 20 canals which criss-crosses the Sundarbans in the past four days while officials found four out of six chambers of the tanker carrying 358,000 litres oil damaged.

Seven members of the sunken tanker's crew managed to swim ashore, but their captain Mokhlesur Rahman was missing till yesterday evening.

The authorities have filed a lawsuit against the owners of both ships.

Bangladesh is yet to seek any overseas assistance to remove the oil but shipping minister Shahjahan Khan yesterday told the BBC radio that a London-based team officered its assistance for the clean-up.

Officials said oil spill from the sunken tanker affected seven young saltwater crocodiles at Karamjal Wildlife Reproduction centre and they were concerned about the fate of dolphins in the region it is their natural abode.

The Sundarbans forest is the world largest mangrove forest, which covers 26,000 square km in India and Bangladesh, is also the habitat of famous Royal Bengal Tigers.