Chennai oil spill: Sludge-cleaning efforts move at snail's pace as state depts pass buck to each other

In 1-2 days, the entire oil spill will be cleaned up: O Panneerselvam, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

In another two days, the beach would be cleaned completely: Pon Radhakrishnan, Minister of State, Shipping Ministry.

In just one day everything will become okay: KC Karuppannan, Environment Minister, Tamil Nadu.

Everything will be cleaned up today itself: Sundaravalli, District Collector, Tiruvallur.

The oil spill can be cleaned up completely only after a minimum of ten days time: Rajan Bargotra, IG, Indian Coast Guard (ICG).

Although all the five people above are saying different things, they are talking about the same subject: the oil spill along the coastline of North Chennai.

On 28 January, two ships collided at Kamarajar Port at Ennore near Chennai. An oil tanker named MT Dawn Kanchipuram rammed into MT BW Maple, an LPG carrier. Initially, the authorities at Kamarajar Port Limited announced that only one or two tonnes of heavy fuel oil had leaked from the damaged oil tanker and that there was no great danger. But even after a week, the oil sludge has not been removed completely.

Chennai oil spill: Sludge-cleaning efforts move at snails pace as state depts pass buck to each other

A member of the Pollution Response Team collects a sample of an oil spill from boulders at the coast, a day after an oil tanker and an LPG tanker collided off Kamarajar Port in Ennore, Chennai. AFP

The ICG has announced that it has removed about 100 tonnes of the oil sludge so far. Cleaning efforts continue with around 1,000 men using buckets to remove the oil spill from the ocean and the coastline.

"People are removing the oil spill with buckets. Is this an ocean or a well?" asked Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) leader Vijayakanth who went to witness the salvaging operation near the shore.

The oil mixed with sea water is brought ashore by the waves and the shoreline is filled with oil sludge. Patches of oil floating in the ocean are also visible. From Ennore Port (it was recently renamed to Kamarajar Port Limited) towards the south, the oil sludge has spread to around 12 kilometres of the coast. "The ICG, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), Chennai Corporation, Chennai Port, Kamarajar Port Limited, and Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Department are some of the many departments which are involved in the cleaning," said MA Warsi, an officer with ICG.

So, have too many cooks spoilt the broth?

"The reason for the slow work is because there is no clarity about which department would foot the bill," said a senior officer from the TNPCB on the condition of anonymity.

"The collision happened within the port area, and they (the port) should take the onus, but the port authorities are reluctant to do so. Even to buy buckets no department came forward. They were brought in by the volunteers themselves. The Kamarajar Port Limited authorities heeded the request for boots and gloves only after two days,” he said.

Initially, a machine called the Super Sucker was used to suck out the spilt oil. "Our machines — the super sucker and the skimmer — are installed in ships. So, the oil sludge along the coastline cannot be sucked using them," said Commandant Pradeep B Mandal, ICG. "Since we were unable to use our machinery, the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board's (CMWSSB) super sucker was brought in, but they are not equipped to suck up such a large amount of sludge, and so buckets are being used," he added. The CMWSSB’s super sucker trucks are used to clear out blocked drains in the city.

In such a situation, the TNPCB, which should play a major role in containing the pollution of the sea, has left all the work in the hands of the ICG and officials are simply viewing operations from the sidelines.

Environmental activists say that if India’s oldest and biggest Chennai Port and the newer Kamarajar Port are unable to clean up or handle a relatively small oil spill, it is very worrisome.

Suba Udhayakumar, an environmental expert said, "These two ports handle cargo for the oil refineries located in Chennai. Such spillage is normally expected but the ports are not equipped or in readiness to handle such crises. And that is a sad truth. Today, they are using buckets to remove the spillage. Will they use the same tomorrow when there is a leak from the atomic reactors? Mistakes and mishaps are common. One should be ready for such things. The oil spillage has passed the 10-day mark and there is no improvement," he said.

The author tweets @anandkso.

Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to and hit the Subscribe button.

Updated Date: Feb 07, 2017 09:10:48 IST

Also See