Ennore spill: Fishers who lost livelihood now remove oil using mugs and drums

The fisherfolk whose livelihoods have been affected due to the spill from Chennai the Petroleum Corporation Limited refinery in Chennai began removing it manually on December 12.
A fisherman from Ennore pour the oil mixed water into a drum
A fisherman from Ennore pour the oil mixed water into a drum
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Fishers from Ennore said that CPCL deployed the fishers to expose themselves to the harsh situation to remove the oil but there was no contract to ensure the medical assistance to them if any emergency arises.

Fishers from Ennore locality have been deployed to manually remove the oil that spread across the Buckingham Canal, Ennore Creek, and Kosasthalaiyar River in North Chennai.  However, they did not have enough safety gear or technical assistance to clean the spill and are trying to remove the spill using mugs and industrial drums.

Their livelihoods have been affected due to the spill from Chennai the Petroleum Corporation Limited (CPCL) refinery in Manali locality. They began removing the oil spill on December 12.

On December 4, the Michaung Cyclone passed the Chennai coast causing a flood in four districts. A report by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) said the ingress of oil mainly occurred near the south gate of the CPCL where stormwater got mixed with oil and entered into Buckingham Canal. The oil further spread down and mixed with Kosasthalaiyar River and flowed into the Ennore Creek and eventually deposited into the ocean. The oil spill cleaning began nearly 10 days after the incident. 

Videos emerging from the Ennore clearly showed that fishers use their bare hands to fill the oil-mixed water in the mugs and pour it into the drums. Environmentalists warn that long exposure without protective gear could lead to severe health issues. 

Speaking to TNM, Srinivasan, a Kaattukuppam fisherman, said that CPCL has deployed the local fishermen to clean the oil sludge using mugs and drums. “They are planning to give a remuneration of Rs 2000 per boat and Rs 800 per fisherman per day,” he said. No assurance has been given on medical assistance if they fall ill. 

Ennore oil spill
Ennore oil spill (Image credits: Nomad Viki (Poovulagin Nanbargal))

He said a fibre boat costs around Rs 4 lakh and fishers are wary of the oil damaging the boats itself.  “Our only income source is contaminated with oil. Since our men did not have many opportunities to make both ends meet they agreed to do this risky job,” said Srinivasan.

Prabhakaran Veeraarasu, an environmental engineer, who made a field visit on December 13 said no safety gear was given to the fishers who risk their lives to revive the canal and river which are their sole income source. Prabhakaran is associated with Poovulagin Nanbargal, an environmental organisation. “It is miserable to see the fishers who already lost their livelihoods being deployed to remove the oil spill even though it was not their job in the first place. They have given a pair of surgical gloves to remove the toxic-chemical from the water,” he said. 

During a hearing on the oil leak case by the zonal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT)  on December 12, TNPCB said that it had instructed CPCL to complete the oil-removing process using oil absorbent pads, pillows, gully suckers, and other possible means on or before December 20. 

Considering the speed at the ground, we do not know how many months it will take for the fishers to remove the oil from the water, Prabhakaran said. There was no deployment of skimmers which are used to remove the oil from the water surface till December 13, he said. Booms that control the spread of the oil were put up only in a few places, which is insufficient, he said.

Aquatic life highly affected due to the oil spill
Aquatic life highly affected due to the oil spill Photo credits: Nomad Viki (Poovulagin Nanbargal)

A press release from the CPCL, on December 13, noted that a 300-metre single containment boom was installed at the mouth area in Ennore Creek and additionally 325 metre of the two-layered boom was installed near the bridge to contain the oil spill further. CPCL noted that the oil skimmer operation commenced on December 13, however, it also noted that manual cleaning of the shoreline in the creek area is being carried out and 20 metric tonnes of solid waste has been cleared. CPCL noted that it had sought help from Paradip Port to get a skimmer and 500 metres of boom and also Kamarajar port oil spill management team stepped into action. After the resistance from the fishers to using surgical gloves, PPE kits including 600 gloves, 600 masks, 250 gumboots, and 150 goggles were distributed in the Ennore Creek area.    

Read: https://www.thenewsminute.com/tamil-nadu/ennore-oil-spill-in-pictures-fisherfolk-plagued-by-contamination-loss-of-livelihood 

However, fishers say not all those who deployed to remove the oil got the PPE kits. Kumaresan, a resident from Kaattukuppam said that per boat 3 to 4 fishers are working to remove the oil and nearly 100 boats have been deployed. “The PPE kits are not sufficient for all of us. Gumboots and goggles are not given to everyone in my village. We wanted them to give us sanitizer and soap to clean our hands before having our food. But they did not include it in the PPE kit,” Kumaresan noted.  

Activists noted that the recent spill of oil into Buckingham Canal would create a greater impact and health-related issues than the 2017 spill but the removal process is taking place at snail's pace. “The 2017 spill occurred at the sea when two ships were collided. During that time Coastal Guard, Army, and Vessels were deployed to remove the oil that was spread across 34 square kilometers of the sea. These arrangements are nowhere to be seen in the ground,” Prabhakaran noted.  

The coastal guard survey that was conducted last week revealed that the recent oil spill spread up to 20 square kilometers. However, the estimation excluded the stretch between the Manali CPCL facility and Buckingham Canal and the Ennore Creek to Kalanji area. Unfortunately, we are yet to know what kind of oil that was seeped into the water bodies. It is to be noted that there was no technical report from the TNPCB to know what kind of oil was leaked from the CPCL facility. “We do not know whether it was a crude oil or processed oil or the chemical components it had carried and what kind of harm it would create if the residents keep exposing themselves to the oil,” Prabhakaran noted further. He urged the TNPCB to conduct the test on the oil and submit the report soon and he also urged the government to conduct medical camps in the affected areas to address the health issues people are facing now.  

Not only did the fishing hamlets alone suffer from the oil spill but also the residents who reside in Ernavoor, Kargil Nagar, Varadharaja Nagar, Kaattankaadu, Adidravidar Kudiyiruppu, and Brindhavan Nagar suffered as the oil laced floodwater entered their houses. Activists urge the government to evacuate the people from the areas till the oil is wiped out from their residential areas.

Aquatic life highly affected due to the oil spill
Aquatic life highly affected due to the oil spill Photo credits: Nomad Viki (Poovulagin Nanbargal)

The fisherfolks worried about the compensation of Rs 6000 that was announced by the government. “The fishers lost their boats, nets, livelihoods and now they are doing high-risk hazardous jobs. The government should consider all these factors while announcing the compensation for the fishers,” Ennore Ward 2 councilor Gomathi Santhosh Kumar told TNM. Prabhakaran noted that state and union governments should consider giving compensation to the fishers rather than waiting for the CPCL to step in. “The state government can file a legal suit against the CPCL to get the compensation later. But we cannot let the fishers wait for what they deserve to get,” he noted further.  

Oil spill in Chennai’s Ennore Creek destroys livelihoods of fishers in eight villages 

It may be recalled that the final draft of the State Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (SOS-DCP) - which details the oil spill response and removal plan that lists control, contain, and recover the oil discharge on the waterways and adjoining shorelines - is yet to get the approval from Indian Coast Guard. Draft SOS-DCP was prepared by an expert committee that was appointed by the state government in 2017 after the Ennore oil spill near Kamarajar port. The expert committee was led by BR Subramanian, former advisor to the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) and senior scientific consultant to the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM). All coastal states are mandated to prepare a contingency plan under the National Disaster Management Act (2005) and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and are obligated to protect and preserve marine life. It has to be consistent with the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP). 

If the draft got the approval at the right time, we might have had some precautionary measures in our hands while dealing this man-made disasters like this, activists pointedly noted. 

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