Grounded vessel in Chilika lake could spill oil and destroy its marine life

The vessel carrying oil ran aground 20 days ago and has still not been salvaged

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Tuesday 27 August 2019

A Malaysian cargo ship Jin Hwa 32 is being monitored by the Indian Coast Guard in Odisha’s Chilika lake due to fears of there being an oil spill.

The vessel ran aground on August 7 at Khirisahi within the lake, while traveling from Malaysia to Bangladesh.  It washed ashore after being damaged by high winds and rough seas.

All 22 crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard, said the additional district magistrate of Puri, Binay Kumar Dash.

However, the real danger comes from the ship’s cargo.  The vessel has around 30,000 litres of diesel, 1,000 litres of lubricant oil and 200 litres of hydraulic oil.

Although there is no oil spill at the moment, there is a high risk of a spill in the event of any hull damage, which could destroy marine life in Chilika.

A constant vigil is being kept over the vessel even as the Coast Guard has begun efforts to pump out all the oil from it.

Chilika, Asia’s largest lagoon, is 64 kilometres (km) long in the north-south direction and 13.5 km wide in the east-west direction.

Near Satapada, the sea is connected with the lake through shallow and a narrow channel. The connecting channel is obstructed by shoals, sand spits and sand bars, thus restricting the outflow of water and also checking the tidal flow into the lake. 

Chilika is recognised as one of the most important wetlands in the world because it is home to a wide variety of birds. Between November and February, the lake and its reed islands teem with over 160 species of birds including white bellied sea eagles, ospreys, golden plovers, sand pipers, flamingos, pelicans, shovellers, and sea gulls, many of which fly over from Iran, Central Asia and Siberia.

“What has got up our goat is that we hear a lot of talk about what should be done but nothing has happened. That vessel aground over 20 days back and officials are still talking. The government should rope in international expertise to prevent a major oil spill from a stranded cargo vessel,” said Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of Wildlife Society of Odisha.

The worst oil spill on the Odisha coast in recent years was when Mongolia-registered ship Black Rose, carrying 60,000 tonnes of iron ore, ran aground near the Paradip port on  September 9, 2009.

Nearly 1,000 tonnes of furnace and diesel oil gushed out of the vessel, contaminating the coastal areas and seriously damaging it, added Mohanty. 

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