Dhaka, Dec 16: Hundreds of people on Monday were hoping to avoid a major ecological disaster in Bangladesh by cleaning up by hand some of the 350,000 litres of oil spilled from a tanker that sank in the Sunderbans delta, the world's largest mangrove reserve and one of the planet's most fragile ecosystems.
About 300 people, mostly local residents and forest staff, were using sponges to remove 350,000 litres of oil spilled into the Shela river by the ship Southern Star 7 on Nov 9, Bangladesh's Forest Conservation chief Yunus Ali said on Monday.
So far, they have cleaned 40,200 liters of the spill, which has severely affected regions up to five kms away -- and to a lesser extent, an area of around 300 sq km -- in a sanctuary that is home to an endangered species of dolphins, according to Ali.
The region is also a habitat for several rare or endangered species such as the Royal Bengal Tiger and the salt water crocodile.
The Bangladesh Petrol Corporation has offered 30 takas (or $0.39) for every litre of oil recovered from the river in the Sunderbans.
Authorities dispatched the vessel Kandari 10 to apply chemical dispersants in the area.
However, despite the ship having reached the disaster spot, the assignment was put on hold while the environment ministry studied the effects of the chemical on local fauna, according to the Dhaka Tribune.
United Nations Development Programme Country Director for Bangladesh Pauline Tamesis said the incident showed the need for a total ban on commercial ships in the Sunderbans region.
"Global experience shows that this kind of incident has long-term environmental consequences," Tamesis said in a statement.
Sunderbans, which means "beautiful forests" in Bengali, has an extension of 10,000 sq km between India and Bangladesh forming a network of canals, rivers and islands.