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


Oil slick poses serious threat to Sundarbans mangrove trees
Observer Online Desk
Published : Friday, 12 December, 2014,  Time : 10:28 PM,  View Count : 0
Mongla (Bagerhat): As a large extent of the Sundarbans East Zone has already been painted with oil slick since oil tanker
‘OT Southern Star 7’ capsized in the Shela River three days back, the government is yet to set forth an effective clean-up operation, creating a huge outcry among environment activists and experts.

The authorities managed to retrieve the sunken oil tanker ashore on Thursday, but all the 3.57 lakh litres of furnace oil loaded in it had by that time been spilled into the river and the adjacent canals.

According to Forest Department officials, the oil slick has already spread across some 80-100 square kilometre areas through the rivers and canals meandering through the mangrove, and due to the tidal waves the slick has invaded a significant portion of the shores.

Talking to this UNB correspondent, many fishermen said they found no fish in the affected areas as they went on fishing over the last two days.

Faruk Khan, a fisherman of the locality, said he only found some dead fishes two days back and since then fishes have disappeared.

Sights of birds and other wildlife are also becoming scantier in the area.

Meanwhile, the effort by the local people to scavenge the oil slick manually - with the use of clothes, foams and nets - has been no match to the extent of the spill.

As of Friday afternoon, local people have managed to collect about 2,000 litres of the spilled oil, according to officials of Padma Oil Company Ltd. which has opened an outlet to buy the oil from the local people.

The local administration on Thursday announced through loudspeakers to engage local people in foraging the floating oil from the river water, but the majority of the locals still remain reluctant about it as the oil collection is become difficult using the traditional method.

Rustam Khan, a resident of Mongla upazila, said although the spilled oil is spreading to different canals and water bodies in the Sundarbans, some people collected the floating furnace oil in some areas.

While talking to reporters on Friday, Mongla Port Chairman Habibur Rahman Bhuiyan said a massive turnout of local people is needed to make the oil clean-up drive a success and the media can play an important role in this regard.

He said ‘Kandari-10’, taken from Chittagong, is yet to be used for removing the oil with chemical as clearance from the Environment Ministry is needed for staring the work.

Bhuiyan said they do not want to use chemical and heavy vessels in cleaning up the spilled oil before confirming it that it will not have any bad impact on the forest and its biodiversity.

“We’ve been thinking about using trawlers in cleaning up the furnace oil. Raw jute, sacks and sponge will be attached with the trawler to remove the spilled oil from the water,” the Mongla Port Chairman added.

Terming this effort ‘inadequate’, Prof Dilip Kumar Datta of Environment Science Department of Khulna University said a large scale skimming using larger vessels should be undertaken rather than solely relying on the primitive skimming carried out by the local people.

Prof Dilip Kumar visited the affected areas on Friday as a member of the seven-member inspection team formed by the government to assess the impact of the oil spill.

He said, “I don’t suggest using chemical dispersant now as the oil slick has already spread across a large area. Using huge chemical dispersant can also be disastrous for the biodiversity.”

“So the oil slick will be naturally coagulated to the environment of the forest due to the presence of clay materials in the muddy waters of the Sundarbans. But I’m more concerned about the condition of saplings and creek-grasses that have already been lapped with oil-slick duo to the functioning of tidal currents in the mangrove.”

"The oil slick will create physical barrier on the water surface to the passing of oxygen as well as to the respiration of the mangrove trees ashore," he said, "I’m worried that my students have reported that they noticed oil slick already spreading across the shorelines."

Great extents of the roots of juvenile mangrove trees and the small grasses that grow in abundance in numerous small creeks have already been flooded by the tide water carrying the oil slick, he noted.

Prof Datta recommended that the authorities should keep adequate skimming equipment and vessels stand by at Mongla Port so that the clean-up operation could be initiated in due time in case such accidents take place in the coming days.

The government's two probe bodies formed to investigate the oil tanker capsize visited the spot to inspect the reason of the accident, measure the impact of the spilled oil and if there is any negative effects of spraying the 'oil spill dispersant'.

All members of three-member probe committee and seven-member committee formed by the Shipping Ministry and the Environment and Forest Ministry respectively visited the spot in the morning.

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.

Seven crewmembers of the oil tanker managed to swim ashore while its master, M Mokhlesur Rahman, still remained missing.

UNB/ZA





Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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