Culture of Hushing up Ecological Disasters Featured

February 05, 2017: Global environmental disasters are considered as extremely serious incidents and state of the art infrastructure is deployed in order to prevent incidences of such mishaps. In order to handle the unfortunate circumstance of an environmental disaster taking place, that threatens to harm the environment, countries across the world have put in place an impressive range of measures aimed to contain and minimise the damage to the delicate ecology. However, in India, we are still far off from that level of sensitivity and responsibility towards the environment, as efforts are made to hush up environmental disasters instead of taking preventive measures or have a robust response procedure for such events.

The recent oil spill following the collision of two vessels, MT BW Maple, carrying liquefied petroleum gas, and the oil tanker, MT Dawn Kanchipuram, near Ennore along the Chennai coastline, is an apt example of this.

Instead of acknowledging the marine disaster, the authorities of Kamarajar Port in Chennai issued a press note denying an oil spill, whereas on the other hand the Coast Guard scrambled to clean up the mess of black sludge that reached even the iconic Marina beach. The denial, lack of communication and failure to contain the spill seem like a clear breach of procedures that should have been followed by the authorities.

In fact, according to the Environmental Impact Assessment master plan for the Kamarajar port, any spill, which has been classified as Tier II, will have to be controlled by the State Government, Coast Guard and Port authorities together. The response team will have to be immediately notified and record of the events and communication log will have to be maintained.

But given the botched manner the situation has been handled, shows clearly that the neither the State Government nor the port authorities were adequately prepared for handling a sudden disaster scenario. The lack of coordination between the agencies was such that even the Coast Guard was apprised of the oil spill after much of the leakage had happened.

Containment and immediate response is of essence in the aftermath of such disasters, but sadly, in the present incident, shifting of blame and denying the extent of damage has been given priority. The Union Government must immediately take note of the situation and recognise the absence of methodical approach towards handling the disaster. The State Government must also assume an active role and move fast by safeguarding the human health from the ill-effects of the spill as the spilt oil has benzene in it which is carcinogenic in nature.

To make matters worse, the coastal fishing communities are not being sensitised about the harmful effects of the oil spill either by the port authorities or by the State administration. This is leading to the continuation of fishing activities in the affected region.

Oil is the most common pollutant in the oceans. More than three million metric tonnes of oil contaminate the sea every year across the world killing a wide variety of marine flora and fauna. India needs to wake up to this reality and recognise its lack of preparedness on this front. For instance, according to a Coast Guard report, there are only 10 trained personnel in Chennai and Ennore to respond to Tier 1 and Tier 2 situations.

This cannot be the state of affairs considering the fact that India’s long coastline of 7,500km. Governments must immediately augment the trained manpower to handle emergency situations.

In order to efficiently manage the marine resources and maintain ecological sanctity, the government must approach prevention of marine pollution as a continuous activity that monitors and maintains ideal ocean standards. Moreover, in the event of an oil spill, the first step on the part of the task force assigned to handle the spill must be to prevent the spill from reaching shore besides reducing the impact on marine life, and to speed the degradation of any unrecovered oil.

The authorities must also perfect the process of using booms to contain or divert the spilled oil, which may then be recovered using skimmers or be burned off. However, if winds or waves are too high, booms will be ineffective and will not provide adequate containment of the spill. In high wind conditions, dispersants can be used through aircraft spraying. .

With the high amount of ocean traffic, accidents are bound to happen, leading to oil spills. But the message should go across unequivocally that marine ecology is non-negotiable and cannot be compromised. In order to emphasise this, the Government must make the involved commercial companies owning the vessels to compensate for loss of fishing, ecology damage and social cost.

By Kota Sriraj

Information Source: The Pioneer

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