The oil tanker that sank in Shela river inside the sunderbans spilling 357,000 litres of oil spill in the fragile mangrove forests threatening not only fishes and other aquatic animals and plants of the river but also the forests on its sides, has drawn attention to the crucial question whether the plying of such tanked through the reserved forests should be severely restricted from now on.
The oil tanker that sank in the Shela River at Joymonigol under East Zone of the Sundarbans on Tuesday morning is yet to be salvaged on Wednesday. The tanker carrying some 3.57 lakh litres of furnace oil plunged in the river after being hit by a cargo vessel losing direction as fog caused poor visibility. The tanker with the master on board went deep into the river.
Divisional Forest Officer Chowdhury Amir Hossain said two rescue vessels sent from Barisal and Narayanganj have not yet reached the spot.
All 3.57 lakh litres of oil spilled out of the tanker into the river over an area extending up to 40 kilometres, Amir Hossain said, adding possible contamination from the oil spillage has kept the aquatic animals plants and herbs at risk.
The BBC reported quoting an witness that the oil was washed into forests on two sides of the river during high tide covering the rooting branches of the mangrove trees along, and turning the soil of the river banks black. The 40-kilometre stretch of the river has lost its natural colour, even the floating algae looked colour-faded. There was no immediate report of death of fishes or other animals, but experts have feared severe environmental damage from the spill.
According to BBC the Forest Department has filed a cases against the owner of the oil tanker for anchoring the vessel at an anauthorised spot. M Giasuddin, managing director of Harun & Co, owning firm of the sunken oil tanker, said the oil tanker sailed for Goplagnj on Monday afternoon from Khulna Padma Oil Company depot to supply the oil to a power station there, but its master was forced to anchor it at Joymonigol around 9pm due to poor visibility caused by the thick fog. He said the empty cargo trawler, Total Cargo, rammed into their vessel ‘OT Southern Star 7, from behind as it was anchored at Joymonigol around 5am due to poor visibility caused by dense fog, creating cracks at the bottom of its deck .
Later, the vessel, heading towards Gopalganj, capsized in the river quickly as water poured into it through the cracks.
Seven crew members who were on board the tanker managed to swim ashore, but its master, Mokhlesur Rahman, 45, still remained missing, sa id Giasuddin.
Transport of oil without which the wheels of industries would not move should definitely me ensured. But as the accident has shown clearly how much risk is involved in the movement of such cargo through the ecologically sensitive mangrove forests. The worst news that surfaced on Wednesday was that Indian ships that use Bangladesh’s river route are now passing through the Sunderbans because the original river route has been clogged by sediments.
The damage that would be caused by the oil spill along the 20 kilometre length of the river, or even more, can only be ascertained through a systematic survey. It would suffice only to say that the damages would be unprecedented and would be difficult to recoupe. Should the authorities concerned not take steps in time to prevent the recurrance such disaster. GreenWatch Report
UNB adds: Water and environment experts suggested the government to announce it a troubled area and deploy army and coast guard members to quickly clear the oil and oil slick to save the biodiversity of the world’s biggest mangrove forest.
“Instead of forming a probe body and finding out the reasons, the government should immediately employ the army and cost guard members in the Sundarbans to remove the oil tanker and spilled oil,” water and environment expert Dr Ainun Nishat told UNB.
He said the more time it will take to clear the spilled oil it will engulf more fresh areas with the high-tide and ebb, threatening the existence of the mangrove forest and its flora and fauna.
Dr Ainun Nishat, also the VC of BRAC University, urged the government authorise to take quick measures to contain the spillage of oil and contamination of the environment and water.
He regretted that though the government declared three areas of the canals in the Sundarbans, covering 32 kilometres, as ‘dolphin sanctuaries’ last year and the huge mangrove as the world heritage it has taken no visible step to save it.
He also said the Forest Department in its report identified the plying of large vessels, mainly those carrying oil, through the rivers surrounding Sundarbans is a great threat to the mangrove forest and its biodiversity. “But, the government is yet to impose a ban on plying of such vessels through the area.”
Mentioning the capsize of OT Southern Star 7’ a wake-up call, the renowned environmentalist called upon the government to take proper steps to protect the Sundarbans and its biodiversity.
The OT Southern Star 7’ carrying some 3.57 lakh litres of furnace oil sank in the river at Migmari under East Zone of the Sundarbans on Tuesday morning after being hit by a cargo vessel ‘Total Cargo at 5am on Tuesday.
The oil tanker that sank is yet to be salvaged.
Echoing Dr Ainun Nishat, environmentalist and Khulna University professor Dr Sardar Sohidul Islam said the spilled oil should be removed as soon as possible as the contaminated water with furnace oil is a great thereat to the survival of the aquatic animals as well as plants and animals of the Sundarbans.
He also said the oil from capsized oil tanker are spearing fast to the mangrove forest and different canals and rivers that will have a long-term effect on the wildlife and fish and other aquatic animals of the Sundarbans.
Shela river route suspended
BSS adds: The government today suspended movement of all water transports on Shela River route until further notice due to sinking of an oil tanker.
The decision was taken at an inter-ministerial emergency meeting in the conference room of the Shipping Ministry with Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan in the chair, according to an official release.
The minister told the meeting that the government is sincere to rescue the sunken oil tanker ‘Ot Southern Star-7’.
The government, he said, has taken all necessary measures to stop leakage of oil in the water from the tanker.
The meeting has also given charge to M Rafiqul Islam, additional secretary of the ministry, as coordinator to monitor the preparation work.
Secretary of energy and mineral resources division Abu Bakar Siddique, additional secretary of environment and forest ministry Khandker Rakibur Rahman, chairman of Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation M Yunusur Rahman and joint secretary of shipping ministry M Sohrab Hossain Sheikh, among others, attended the meeting.