Deadly slick

Deadly slick

The collision of two cargo ships five nautical miles from the Mumbai coast has triggered a serious environmental disaster. MSC Chitra was leaving Mumbai port when it collided with the incoming MV Khalijia-III. The collision has left Chitra tilting dangerously into the sea and disgorging its contents into the waters. It is reported to be carrying several thousands of tonnes of fuel oil, diesel oil and lubrication oil. Traffic into Mumbai port has been suspended. While port officials have said that “normalcy will be restored soon”, it is unlikely that the impact of the collision will stop being felt soon. Coastguard officials have said that the ship is so precariously positioned that it is likely to capsize. They have not been able to board the ship yet to identify or plug the leaks. This means that the leakage of oil into the seas will continue for some days. What is more, the oil slick has started moving. It has been sighted around 2 km away from the ship and has already touched the coast at Alibag and Uran in Raigad district. The slick is said to be approaching the famous Elephanta Caves, a heritage site. The rough monsoon weather is carrying the slick further and faster.

The collision of the two ships will have impact on the environment and the economy. It is expected to destroy the mangrove belt along the coastline, which provides villages with some protection from stormy seas. It will have serious impact on marine life. This in turn will affect the livelihood of thousands of fishermen as their catch of fish will be depleted in the months to come. Besides, fears of poisoning from consuming contaminated fish will result in a fall in its demand. With port authorities suspending operations for some time, shipment of cargo and business will be hit as well. There is a danger of contaminated fish finding its way into the market. The government must take steps to prevent this.

India’s response to disasters, especially those triggered by the irresponsible actions of big business, has been to cover up rather than fix accountability. Cases have been registered against the captains of the two ships. Will action stop with that? The government must get the shipping companies to pay up. Besides, compensation for fishermen, they must pay for clean-up and for the long-term damage they have caused to the environment.

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