Over a week after the collision of two ships near the Kamarajar port in Ennore caused a massive oil spill, the Directorate General of Shipping dismissed allegations of delay in action by port authorities.
DG Shipping Malini Shankar, IG Coastguard Rajan Bargotra and port authorities addressed a press conference at the Port Trust on Monday. Authorities claimed that an enquiry has been launched into the collision between BW Maple and MT Dawn Kancheepuram and that the report will be ready in 2 months.
"Port authorities waited to berth the ships, so that they could assess the damage that had been wrought on the vessel, " said Malini Shankar, adding "It was important to focus first on human life. The first priority of the port authorities was to shift the ships to a safe area and make sure it does not sink."
When asked about why there was a delay in informing the general public and media about the oil spill, Captain Jayakumar, Deputy Nautical Advisor claimed, "It was a traumatic situation and we needed to tackle bigger issues. Our first priority was safety."
So, what led to the collision in the first place? "The pilot of BW Maple left the vessel before it entered the port area," says Bhaskaracharya, Chairman of Ennore port. "The pilot discussed his deboarding with the captain who claimed that he had the situation in control," he added.
A port authority, under the promise of anonymity said that the pilot had in fact sent a message to the captain that he was on the path to collision, only to be ignored. "It was in fact a lack of communication on the part of the ships' captains that led to the collision," he claimed.
Notices have been issued to the ships under section 365(J) and 356(K) of the Merchant Shipping Act. The vessels have further been restrained from leaving the port without permission.
"We are following the policy where the polluter must pay, "said DG Shipping. "The compensation will be in two parts. One is for the expenses incurred by various agencies to clean and dispense off the oil. The second will be for fishermen and others who have lost their livelihood due to the incident.
DG Shipping further said that a 'claims desk' has been established to compensate fishermen. "We understand that the they are divided into societies. A representative from each can come file the losses they incurred. This will have to be supported by documentary proof," she said.
Authorities at the news briefing claimed that a total cargo of 26,806 metric tonnes of motor spirit and 6008 metric tonnes of high speed diesel which were safely discharged to shore tanks. "The amount of oil spilled into the sea can be confirmed only after an enquiry, " said Malini.
However, the DG did attempt to alleviate fears of marine life being affected due to the spill. "We have been told by experts that the fish is safe to consume. Furthermore, turtles have not been affected by the oil spill." But neither the DG, port authorities nor the naval adviser had an answer when questioned about the toxins in the oil. Close to 1000 volunteers from Chennai and Ennore have been helping clear the black sludge that has collected on the city shores.
According to environmentalists, these volunteers have been exposed to toxic chemicals including benzene, which is a carcinogen.
When The News Minute asked why these volunteers were allowed to be exposed to this toxic sludge, the DG deflected the question, claiming, "Only the pollution control board can determine the toxicity of the oil."
Asked about how much the marine life has been affected, Malini said, â€œWe have been told by experts that turtles have not been affected by the oil so far. Moreover, experts said that if evidence of turtle deaths due to oil spill is found in the enquiry, the forest department can pull up the ship owners."