Five days after two cargo ships collided off the Ennore port in Chennai, leading to an oil spill, authorities involved in the cleanup suggest that it is nearing completion. For five days now the coastline has turned black due to sludge and crude oil deposits. Initial estimates by authorities said that about one tonne of oil was spilt following the collision, but by Thursday, the pollution response team of the Coast Guard had already collected 50 tonnes of sludge and another 27 tonnes of oil mixed with water.
"1,025 people are working towards clearing the oil spill and close to 45 metric tonne of oil mixture has been removed and we expect to clear another 20 metric tonne by end of the day," said district collector Sundaravalli while supervising the cleaning operations.
Controversies around the oil spill
Questions have been raised on the action against handlers of both cargo ships with demand for an inquiry being raised from many quarters. The issue was also raised in the Rajya Sabha following which the parliamentary standing committee on environment took suo moto cognisance of the matter.
Environmentalists are also seeing red over the equipment being used to clear the toxic spill and the gears handed to those involved in the clearance operations. Without effective clearance mechanisms in place, local fishermen with bare minimal gears like gloves and boots are helping the authorities clean up the oil spill. The same, however, has been ineffective given the massive area affected by the oil spill. While reports of turtle deaths surfaced during the first two days of the oil spill, environmentalists said that death of turtles may not have been a result of the oil spill but they did not rule out the danger to other marine life closer to the shore.
Concerns were also raised over safety in consuming seafood following the toxic oil spill. While fishermen are engaged in the cleanup, none from the affected coastline have ventured out into the sea. "60 tonnes of oil collected, another 20 tonnes left in the area that will be removed soon. Consumption of seafood is safe," claimed Tamil Nadu fisheries minister D Jayakumar. Apprehensions however, continue to grasp people. Reports also suggested that the sludge has reached the lighthouse at Marina beach in Chennai.