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Friday, December 12, 2014, Agrahayan 28, 1421, Safar 18, 1436 Hijr

Oil slick in Sunderbans spreads far and wide
Sunken oil tanker salvaged; Authority lacks knowhow, cleaning equipment
Published : Friday, 12 December, 2014,  Time : 12:00 AM,  View Count : 115
Saleem Samad with Jahid Hossain from Khulna
About 52 hours after its capsize, the sunken oil tanker, 'OT Southern Star 7', was pulled out from the Shela River in the Sundarbans on Thursday.
The salvage 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.
"Three vessels of Ms Harun & Co, the owner of 'OT Southern Star 7', have successfully pulled out the oil tanker from the river around 9am today," Divisional Forest Officer Chowdhury Amir Hossain said.
Meanwhile, environmentalists have predicted the alarming oil-spill from the capsized severely will damage the eco-system of the mangrove forest.
In a first oil slick in the Sunderbans, threatening the world's largest mangrove ecosystem, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
According to latest reports, the oil slick has spread around 40 kms as the tidal action flushes seawater upstream and downstream. This process will further spread the oil slick.
The Chandpai Sanctuary since in 2011 on the Shele River is home for two species of sweet-water dolphins, both endangered - the Irawaddy and Ganges dolphins. The Sundarbans, is also a unique habitat for a number of other rare and endangered species including the Bengal tiger, Indian otter and spotted Deer, much of it is unique to the region.
The dolphins will be unable to breathe because of the thick oil layer on the water surface, which will significantly reduce the level of oxygen.
The oil slick is carried to the forest floor by tides and would hamper the breathing of mangrove plants. Seeds from mangrove trees would be unable to germinate in the oil covered mud, environmental experts said.
They also said that the slick would severely take toll on the crabs as their habitat would be covered by oil, which would deplete the crab population. The migratory birds, and local herons and egrets survive on the crabs and variety of insects on the rivers and canals would also be affected in their consumption pattern.
On Tuesday morning an oil tanker carrying around 350,000 litres (75,000 gallons) capsized on the Shele River in the Sundarbans while anchored for misty fog. The ill-fated 'OT Southern Star 7' was rammed by another cargo vessel in poor visibility.
The vessel was on its way to a power plant in Gopalganj Depot carrying  furnace oil from Khulna.
Assistant Forest Conservator Abul Kalam Azad presume that all of the furnace oil from the tanker had spilled into the river.
An environmentalist monitoring the disaster said the satellite pictures confirm the tidal action has spread the oil slick to Andharmanik, Nandabala, Joymoni and Harintana areas through the canals linked to the Shela River.
Since the legal shipping route collapsed due to heavy siltation in 2011, vessels have been using alternative routes through restricted forest areas to save time and costs.
Two navy ships and two other ships of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) have rushed to the spot. But ships are not equipped with proper equipment to clean the oil from the river.
The officials admitted that they do not have the capacity to handle such mammoth ecological tragedy.
Villagers and Navy personnel are trying to remove the fast spreading oil with the traditional method of skimming the surface with banana leaves and bamboo sticks.
Navy Commander Monir Mallick said that they have applied ancient method using bamboos and banana trees to remove the oil from the water surface.
Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan explained that powdered chemicals would be sprayed from Kandari-10, which is arriving from Chittagong so that the oil slick on the water could be reduced and risk factor of reduction of oxygen in the water is expected to be neutralised.
The Forest Department has filed damage suit worth Tk 1 billion against the owners of the two cargo ships involved in the collision.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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