Sunken tanker pulled ashore, oil spill damages to Sunderbans huge

Sunken tanker pulled ashore, oil spill damages to Sunderbans huge

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Officials warned Thursday that oil spill from a crashed tanker is threatening endangered dolphins and other wildlife in the massive Sundarbans mangrove region, branding the leak an ecological “catastrophe”.
The tanker carrying an estimated 350,000 litres (75,000 gallons) of oil collided on Tuesday with another vessel and partly sank in the Sundarbans’ Shela river, home to rare Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins.
“It’s a catastrophe for the delicate ecology of the Sundarbans. The oil spill has already blackened the shoreline, threatening trees, plankton, vast populations of small fishes and dolphins,” Hossain said.“The symptoms of environmental damage will be visible soon as the water quality has already been damaged,” he added.
Authorities have launched a small-scale clean-up, but warned they lack the hardware and experience for a major effort. “We’ve not started any major clean-up efforts yet. In fact, the forest department doesn’t have the technology to deal with this kind of disaster,” said Hossain.
Bangladesh’s state-run petroleum corporation was using buoys to restrict the slick, while local fishermen have been ordered to use nets to try to stop the oil entering small canals.
Spread over 10,000 square kilometres (3,900 square miles), the Sundarbans is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site and home to hundreds of Bengal tigers. The delta comprises a network of rivers and canals straddling Bangladesh and India.
The accident occurred inside one of three sanctuaries set up for the dolphins, said Rubayat Mansur, Bangladesh head of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.
The three areas were declared dolphin sanctuaries in 2011 after studies found they are home to some 6,000 of the animals. Fishermen are banned from making catches there, but tankers and other boats are allowed to pass through.
“There are no coordinated efforts to tackle the disaster. The air has become toxic and we got news from fishermen they’ve seen dead fishes. Crabs which make up the largest single group in the forest are facing the biggest threat,” he said.
“And if crabs are hit, the dolphins and tigers will be affected. Dolphins will find it very difficult to breathe this foul air,” he added.
The United National is concerned about the oil spill in the Sundarbans, following the sinking of a tanker there. A high-powered team may come to Bangladesh soon to assess the damage this accident has caused to the Sundarbans.
About 52 hours after its capsize, the sunken oil tanker, ‘OT Southern Star 7’, was pulled to the bank of the Shela River in Sundarbans on Thursday.
Vessels of Ms Harun & Co had dragged its sunken oil tanker to the shore before two navy ships — Shah Paran and Akter Uddin — and two other rescue vessels sent from Barisal and Narayanganj reached the spot.
There were eight inter-connected tanker blocks in the ‘OT Southern Star 7’, he said adding that six of the tanker blocks cracked following the hit by cargo vessel ‘Total’.
As the tankers were interconnected, most of the 3.57 lakh litres of oil spilled out of the tanker into the river stretching over around 70 kilometers, Amir Hossain said.
UNDP Country Director Pauline Tamesis has said this accident once again highlights the need for a complete ban on the movement of all commercial vessels through the Sundarbans.
Global experience, Tamesis said, shows that this kind of incident has long term environmental consequences and it requires coordinated multisectoral efforts to restore the affected areas.  She said it may also affect the people dependent on the water bodies around the forest.
“We are consulting with the government, national and international partners to explore ways we can help government to minimize the damage to and rehabilitate this globally significant natural heritage,”
UNB adds: The DFO of  the Sunderbans range said they are now talking to experts as to how they can clean up the spilled oil and they will start work to this end very soon.
The OT Southern Star 7’,  carrying some 3.57 lakh litres of furnace oil, sank in the river at Mrigmari under East Zone of the Sundarbans after being hit by a cargo vessel, ‘Total Cargo, at 5am on Tuesday, causing a serious threat to the existence of the Sundarbans and its natural resources due to oil spill.
The flora and fauna of the Sundarbans and its ecology are in danger as the furnace oil from the oil tanker in a river of the word’s largest mangrove forest has already spread nearly 70 kilometers.
Forest officials said the furnace oil from the capsized vessel also spread to the mangrove forest and different canals and rivers through various channels and it may wreck havoc on the forest and its wildlife and fish and other aquatic animals.
Environment experts called upon the government for deploying Army and Coast Guard members to tackle the problem and clean spilled oil as early as possible.
Layers of oil slick were visible on the water in different parts of the Shela River, including Mrigmari, Joymoni, Beltala, Nandabala and Andharmanik areas, which are feared to hit a vast tract of the Sundarbans, spelling a potential environmental disaster for it.
The Forest Department on Wednesday filed a Tk 100 crore compensation suit against the owners of the OT Southern Star 7’ and ‘Total Cargo responsible for Tuesday‘s oil tanker capsize in the Shela River, causing serious spillage of oil.
Besides, the Forest Department also formed a three-member probe committee, headed by Belayet Hossain, the Chandpai range assistant conservator of forest under the Sundarbans West Zone, to look into the incident and asses the extent of damage of environment and biodiversity of the Sundarbans due to spill.
The government also formed a three-member inquiry committee asking it to present its report by 15 working days.
Environmentalists had long been calling upon the government to close waterways through the Sundarbans as it may invite a potential environmental catastrophe. In 2011, the Forest Division asked theBangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) not to use Sundarbans waterways as UNESCO declared it a world heritage site in 1997.
Following the tanker capsize, the government on Wednesday banned the plying of all kinds of vessels through the Shela River route of the Sundarbans until further notice. –  News Desk

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