Under the Chennai sun, the fluorescent orange and yellow protective gear were unmistakeable. Around 750 people worked harmoniously in groups of 20 each, over slippery rocks stained with oil, passing buckets of black sludge. Standing in rows from the sea shore, volunteers at Bharthiyar Nagar toiled all day long cleaning up the massive oil, five days after two ships collided near the Kamarajar Port in Ennore. The last volunteer in each row was tasked with tipping the toxic sludge into giant drums.
Speaking to The News Minute, Pradeep B Mandal, Commanding Officer in the Coast Guard, says, " About 60 tonnes of oil have been collected from Bharthiyar Nagar. The oil is collected in containers and sent to Ennore Port Trust. The officials will decide what needs to be done with it. No medical cases have been reported in this place. By Friday, all the slush will be removed."
The cleaning crew tasked with clearing the mess along the 30-kilometre coastal stretch include fishermen, fire and rescue personnel from Kanchipuram, Tiruvallur, Vellore and Tiruvannamalai, students from Vels University, HIMT college, environmental NGOs, Indian Coast Guard and Indian Oil Corporation.
The News Minute spoke to some of the crew, who have been manually been clearing the shore of oil for the last few days.
K Kalaimuth, Fire station officer, Gummidipoondi
For four days, 140 fire and rescue personnel have been working to clean the beach. No proper gloves and shoes have been provided but we will continue working till sea surface is free of the sludge.
Being an officer, I am only supposed to supervise the work but as there is so much oil, I’m also involved in the clean-up operations.
We have been staying at temporary shelters in Thirumana Mahal and government schools, with food and water being supplied by the government. We are trained to work like this and we will continue to work hard no matter what problem arises.
Felix, German volunteer, Tree Foundation
Around 20 volunteers from the Tree Foundation, an environmental organisation have been helping out in Bharthiyar Nagar. When we came to help out on the first day, no one helped us. Later, fishermen joined us and were helping us in discarding the oil. No gloves or shoes were provided to us. The next day, our foundation gave us shoes and gloves to clean the oil. But at the end of the day, when we want to wash-up, we have no kerosene provided to remove the oil from our hands and legs.
Standing on the slippery rocks and passing buckets of oil all day is long dangerous.
Malta, German volunteer, Tree Foundation
We came to remove the sludge because we care for the environment and turtles. After this is cleaned, turtles will be able to come to the shore.
Bala, volunteer, Green Wish Foundation
Green Wish Foundation, an NGO, has also has been busy mopping up the oil for the last three days.
The Coast Guard provided gloves but it does not last the entire day. It tears after a few hours of work.
We have been helping out because we’ve participated in many clean-up drives. If the oil had reached the shore, it would have been easier and faster to clean up the sludge.
Some of the volunteers have taken leave from their work to help here. However, many more volunteers are required to clean up the oil at Bharthiyar Nagar.
Sathish, fisherman, Palagaithooti Kuppam
My family survives on the fish we catch from the sea. But now, we are unable to sell even Rs 100 worth of fish. After the oil spill, we had caught fish worth Rs 1000 but were unable to sell it.
Seetha, 40, corporation worker, Ennore
My colleagues and I are tasked with sweeping the roads next to the oil spill.
Before this oil spill, the area used to be cleaner but for the last four days, there is lot of waste. We collect bottles, oil, food packets and other waste lying on the roads. The work has definitely increased but look at the number of people who are working here to clean up the oil, that makes me happy.
Devaraj, 52, painter
I’ve been here for the last three days working from 9am to 6pm. I came here because I’ve not gotten any painting work. I get Rs 400 everyday here.
I haven’t faced any allergies so far, but we will know if we suffer any health issues after a few days.