Horizon and Chitra…………Same but Different

Deepwater Horizon happens. The implications to the environment are huge. The Mexican gulf is polluted. The coastal regions depending on fishing and tourism, are the hardest hit. Oil continues to float on the gulf waters and will continue to affect the marine environment. BP will loose billions in settlement, and it has to rethink its business models if it wants to come back to the top. The world and the media, is projecting this case, so that justice is delivered to the affected.

MSC Chitra happens. Its just another ship that’s listing heavily in the navigation channels of the Mumbai port, after an accident with MV Khalija. The containers from the ship have tumbled overboard, and oil is gushing out from one of its fuel tanks. The containers contains, amongst other items, pesticides, and no one knows whether the containers in water contain it. The attitude of the port authorities and disaster response team(if there is any in the Mumbai port) towards this incident, is lax, if not negligent. It takes two days for the gravity of the situation to sink in. But by than, containers have reached far away coastal villages. People in this regions are running around, salvaging whatever they find in the containers. 500 kg samples of fish are found to be polluted. The fishing activity in this region has been banned, resulting in loss of livelihood to thousands of fishing families living in this area Meanwhile, the authorities find that the port is not equipped to handle the situation well. The port continues to be closed for ship movement in and out. The railways and transport systems are loosing in crores due to unavailability of cargo to transport. Fears loom large that the city will be short of oil and gas, for its power plants and vehicles, if cargo movement if not restored. Basically, MSC Chitra, lying in the navigation channel, has threatened to shut down Mumbai.

Deepwater Horizon incident is a major one. But does that mean that the Mumbai incident is not so damaging to Mumbai? Then why this relaxed attitude. Is it because oil spill in Indian waters is taken for granted? Initial reports said that the authorities were using dispersants to reduce the oil sheen. But few people know how it works. Dispersants do nothing to convert harmful oils, full of those catalysts, in to something that is environment friendly. It just makes it heavy enough to settle to the bottom of the sea. Yes! Even after the application of dispersants, the oil exists at the bottom, which is no quite as deep near the coast. During my shipboard training and tenure, we have been taught that these kind of dispersants are to be used only after go ahead from the concerned port authority. And they will rarely give the go ahead. So why does the Mumbai port consider dispersant as the first choice instead of swinging into action some containment plan. Is it because we compare it with deepwater horizon spewing out millions of barrels of oil from the sea bottom?

Go to any coast in India with a port nearby. There is always a layer of oil washed ashore during high tide. This oil is nothing but the waste oil that is discharged from he ships trading in Indian waters, even after lots of regulations in place by the international convention for prevention of marine pollution(MARPOL). The authorities turn blind eye to this oil discharges, and the shipping companies go scot-free. With our attitude, we are heading towards complete destruction of our vast shoreline and the ecosystem around it.

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