This Article is From Aug 08, 2011

Oil leaking from sunken ship MV Rak, ecological disaster at Mumbai's doorstep?

Mumbai: Mumbai's worst fears are coming true. MV Rak, the vessel that sank off the coast of Mumbai on Thursday, is now leaking oil. (See pics)

The leak has occurred due to the ingress of water in the cargo hull, officials said.

"Since last night, oil has been observed leaking from the sunken vessel Rak Carrier at an approximate rate of 1.5 to 2 tonnes per hour. The oil has spread about seven nautical miles around the vessel", a Defence press release said.

The coastguard has deployed two ships, including its anti-pollution vessel INS Samudra Prahari, which are neutralizing the oil spill by spraying chemicals that binds the oil and prevents it from spreading. However, with 1.5-2 tons of oil leaking every hour, environmentalists are worried.

Oil patches have also been seen on Juhu beach - sparking fears about whether the grounded ship MT Pavit was leaking oil. The Pavit was abandoned near Oman about a month ago after serious technical issues with its engines. It then drifted into the Arabian Sea and entered India's exclusive economic zone which extends 200 nautical miles off the Mumbai coast.

Though a drum of oil had fallen off Pavit, authorities say, these patches are likely to have been caused by the Rak carrier spill, carried ashore.

"It is quite close to the shoreline and there is not much distance separating the oil from the beaches and mangroves. Since this is the breeding season, this is the most vulnerable time of the year," said Debi Goenka, an environmentalist.

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Last August, after MSC Chitra and MV Khalija collided off the Mumbai coast, the oil spill spread not just to the coast of Mumbai, but as far as Raigad and Elephanta, damaging the mangrove belt in and around Mumbai city, contaminating shores, and even threatening fishing activity.

"When the oil sinks, it enters into the food chain. The algae imbibe the oil and that may affect the entire marine ecology," said Swapna Prabhu, from Bombay Natural History Society.

This time too, fishermen have been advised to stay away from the area where the ship has sunk.

The Panama-flagged vessel sank off the coast of Mumbai on Thursday, with 60,000 metric tonnes of coal, 290 tonnes of fuel oil and 50 tonnes of diesel on board.

Salvage operations will be difficult to undertake due to the rough weather and tidal conditions because of the monsoons. This means, Mumbai will have to keep its fingers crossed, hoping the oil lead is kept at bay and the vessel stays intact.