The Indian Coast Guard, designated as the first response agency to combat oil spills in our territorial waters, has released some startling statistics. Over 60,000 tonnes of crude oil has been spilt into the Arabian Sea in the last 29 years, sparking concern over the irreversible damage to marine life.
The spill in the Arabian Sea caused by 23 ship accidents since 1982, amounts to over half the total oil spilt along the entire Indian coastline. Close to 113,000 tonnes of oil has been spilled along the country’s coastline due to 74 ship accidents in the same time frame.
“Things have been particularly bad in the last two years. The oil spill from MV Rak earlier this month, was the second successive blow for the Mumbai coast in the monsoon, which is breeding season for a majority of the marine species. Last August, MV Chitra spilt over 800 tonnes of oil into the Arabian Sea. There is a limit to which ecological balance can be maintained. Once damaged, it may take years to recuperate,” said Deepak Apte, deputy director of BNHS’s conservation department.
Maritime expert Joseph Fonseca, who procured these figures from the Coast Guard (Sunday Mid Day has a copy), said the number of vessels docking into the two city ports is on the rise. A dearth of experienced seafarers implied that accidents are bound to escalate. “Marine officers attain the rank of Captain in barely six to eight years, while in the past, they could only command a ship after 12 to 15 years. A lack of experience could be one of the causes for an increase in these accidents,” said Fonseca.
Captain Dinesh Jairam, a senior maritime professional, who has been in the industry for 30 years, agreed. According to him, qualified seafarers were opting for shore jobs, which has led to a dearth of experienced seafarers on the ship.
“Over 70 per cent of accidents at sea are due to human error. In spite of all the technological advancements in the navigation sector, at the end of the day, all machines are operated by humans, who must have the right expertise,” he said.
President Indian National Ship-owners Association for Mumbai Sabyasacchi Hajara said one reason for senior mariners taking shore jobs could be that India is a growing economy. “Though life at sea is more comfortable compared than it was, if seafarers find lucrative shore jobs that do not involve long time spans away from family, it is natural that they would opt for those.”
According to Chairman of the Maritime Association of Shipowners Shipmanagers and Agents (MASSA) Captain Shyam Jairam, the only remedy is adequate training and mentoring to curb human error.
MV Rak sank in the Arabian Sea on August 4, 2011. Had 60,000 tonnes of coal and at least 300 tonnes of fuel oil. Two tonnes of oil has been leaking into the sea every hour since August 6. There are reports that another vessel is presently drifting towards Mumbai.
MV Pavit abandoned off the Oman coast on June 29, 2011 drifted to Mumbai and was grounded at Juhu Versova beach on July 31.
MV Wisdom owned by a Singapore company lost her tow 10 nautical miles off Mumbai on June 11, 2011. It was grounded at Juhu beach. Though oil slick was observed on the beach, there are no confirmed reports on how much was spilt.
January 30, 2011 naval vessel INS Vindhagiri suffered damage after a Cyprus flag merchant ship MV Nordlake collided with it at the entrance of Mumbai harbour.